Unconventional natural gas development in deep shale formations forms a major, promising option for energy development. The Marcellus Shale in the northeastern United States is one of the most promising shale natural gas fields in the world with potential to provide energy resources for the nation and needed income for many rural communities. However, natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale region will have broad economic, social, and natural resource impacts - both good and bad.
The research goal of this dissertation was to understand key issues - real or perceived - related to Marcellus Shale development, to understand how these perceptions lead stakeholders to take action, and to understand how these actions emerge within local places. The twelve county Pennsylvania Wilds region served as the region for this study. Focus groups, discussion groups, key informant interviews, content and discourse analysis, and group observations were used to catalog, assess and analyze these issues.
Perceptions of Marcellus Shale development were found to be varied and nuanced, forming around social, environmental, and economic indicators. Perceptions were also shown to be influenced by prior experience with natural gas development, political philosophies, and proximity to Marcellus Shale development. Perceptions guide individuals in the selection of groups, organizations, and other individuals residents interact with and the information sources from which they seek guidance. Interactions emerging in response to Marcellus Shale development thus illuminate local practices of taking information and putting it to use within and across communities, counties, and regions.
Risk and risk perception was shown to be a major factor influencing interactions, adaptive capacity, and resilience within the region. Information transmission, especially miscommunication and misinformation, are key factors in perpetuating outrage in relation to Marcellus Shale development. Uneven development of resilience and adaptation was shown to form major barriers to the emergence of community fields and social well-being across the Pennsylvania Wilds region. Further, differences in resilience and Marcellus Shale impacts at various levels of the panarchy were shown to be barriers to effective community development and long-term planning. From this, implications for policy were discussed and avenues for future research noted.