Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin. Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields

By Cory, Jessica | Appalachian Heritage, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin. Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields


Cory, Jessica, Appalachian Heritage


Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin. Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 2018. 144 pages. Hardcover. $24.95.

In a recent interview with Mother Jones, renowned poet Julia Spicher Kasdorf shared that upon commencing Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields with award-winning documentary photographer Steven Rubin, she "was really determined to keep an open mind. My impulse was to defend rural people for whom making a living has become increasingly difficult. If fracking means you can keep your farm, am I going to stand in judgment about that? I didn't know."

Kasdorf's observant inquiry into hydraulic fracturing, known often as "fracking" provides an almost-unbiased assessment of the process and its effects on the communities she engages with (and is indeed herself a part of) in Appalachian Pennsylvania. In fact, the outcome of Kasdorf and Rubin's work considers not just the residents negatively impacted by fracking, but the impacts such an industry has on its itinerant workers, the environments it develops and leaves behind, and each one of us, whom are often implicated in its necessity.

Shale Play begins with a foreword by Barbara Hurd, who notes that "Kasdorf and Rubin remind us all that we all live, consciously or not, within the larger contexts of other people with other stories" This weaving of our own lives, whether we reside in a heavily-fracked area or not, with the lives of both the authors and their subjects, seems to be the meaning behind Shale Play. This book exists to show us the interconnections and few degrees of separation that link not only those in Appalachian Pennsylvania, but also the grandmother making tea on a gas stove in Oregon and the farmer struggling to make ends meet in North Carolina. While this book focuses on a particular region of Pennsylvania, it is truly representative of all of us.

Kasdorf and Rubin follow the foreword with a fairly extensive preface. They utilize several cited sources and are informed by highly credible works including The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World by Russell Gold and Tom Wilbur's Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale, among others. The preface may not be required reading for those quite familiar with the practice and its rise in southwestern Pennsylvania; however, for readers who reside outside of the area or are unfamiliar with the breadth and depth of fracking, the preface provides an excellent resource. It also gives additional information on Kasdorf and Rubin, particularly their connections to the region and their experiences surrounding fracking, which is quite helpful for readers who are new to their work.

This collaboration between Kasdorf and Rubin is multifaceted: part documentary, part history lesson, part raw beauty in the juxtaposition between what we think of as the "natural" world and the artifice resulting when humans alter these landscapes. Rubin captures fracking pads at dusk with shadowy oak leaves overhanging the frame, horses grazing mere feet from gas wells, and meetings between concerned citizens and elected officials in which the tension jumps off the page. …

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