Play Grounds

Documenting a rural Pennsylvania community transformed by the hydraulic fracturing industry


lay Grounds depicts Montrose, Pennsylvania, a rural community on the front lines of the natural gas revolution, and the local residents who have been transformed by the industry.

In Montrose, numerous household water supplies have been contaminated, traditional farmers are concerned for the safety of their products, and families have begun to invest in expensive air-to-water technology to monitor the quality of their drinking water.

The surrounding Susquehanna County holds the highest number of drilling violations in the state of Pennsylvania.

Hydraulic fracturing, the process for extracting natural gas, injects large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand more than a mile beneath the earth’s crust to release gas.

In the United States, the process benefits from a unique exemption from aspects of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Around the globe, governments are on the fence about gas extraction, from Scotland, the most recent country to enact a moratorium, to China’s desperate plans to alleviate their reliance on coal via drilling.

In the United States, the process has ignited a fierce controversy, as the nation drastically searches for more energy within its own borders. Last year, the state of New York banned hydraulic fracturing, the second of three states to do so, due to health and safety concerns.

After living in Montrose for the summer of 2014, Madeline Cottingham set out to document her time exploring the landscape and engaging with the community. The title is drawn from the industry term for an area expected to be profitable—shale play.

The Washington Spectator
presents an excerpt of Cottingham’s collection in partnership with the artist.


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