Sacrificial Fire

Sacrificial Fire addresses the environmental impact of fracking in Western Pennsylvania. Flaring is a process in which gases from a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) well are burned off, resulting in roaring 50 foot flames. For the past four years, I have documented the visual impact of this process on the nighttime landscape in rural areas of Pennsylvania.

I first encountered a fracking well flare in October 2011, while making my nightly 50 mile trek from Pittsburgh to Lawrence County. The entire sky burned red that night, and I was certain the source must be some sort of huge industrial fire. When the sky was still red three days later, I detoured off my usual course to investigate. What I found, on a rural road in the middle of nowhere, was a midnight landscape lit bright as day, and a roar that obliterated what should have been serene silence. It was impossible to explain the experience in words; few understood the true impact when I did.

Flaring is just a small part of the hydraulic fracturing process, which is used to extract oil and natural gas from the earth’s underlying rock formations. In the United States, fracking has caused numerous environmental and health concerns, including water, air, noise and light pollution and increased risk of earthquakes. The change in the nighttime landscape became a visual representation of the larger
impact of fracking; the seductive beauty and enticement of jobs, wealth and “energy independence” that pulled so many in, hiding the detrimental impact on our health and environment that would lie just around the bend.

The work’s title, “Sacrificial Fire”, is a reference to the flame created in the act of flaring, the environmental sacrifice that we make in the name of “energy independence” and the unexpectedly primal experience of encountering one of these wells in person.

This work is part of the FrackingPA project, which is a joint project of photographers, filmmakers and poets to use their art to address the issue of hydraulic fracturing in Western Pennsylvania. 

In 2015, I was invited to show this work at Photo Gallery Momozono in Toyko, Japan. Fracking is relatively new to Japan, which saw its first experimental fracking well in the Akita Prefecture in 2014. I think it is important for citizens in Japan to be aware of the problems that have occurred in the United States, especially in light of their own energy and environmental issues, including the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in 2011. By starting and maintaining an international dialogue around energy issues we can make better decisions about how to address these issues in the future.