Friday, March 25, 2011


1990 was a particularly good time to drill for gas. Federal tax incentives for exploratory drilling were about to expire and major companies rushed to get wells underway.

That year I lived in rural Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, about 12 miles from the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport. My house was a rented one. It was a aging house built in the early 1900s on approximately 700 acres most of which was heavily wooded, with ample pasture land. The pasture land was rented to nearby farmers who generally grew hay or pastured cattle or horses.

I awoke one morning to the growling sounds of flatbed trucks and heavy machinery. Preparation-crews, the smell of diesel, and the sound of tracked earth-moving machines and chainsaws were present every day for many weeks. When the rigs began to drill it was a 24 hour operation. For a while I was surrounded by work crews on eight rigs and endless clanking of drilling shafts, and a surrealistic lighted landscape at night.

Roads had to be built and drilling pads constructed. Ponds for spillage and overflow were excavated and lined.

I decided early on that I wanted to photograph this assault on the land. I was angry. This was to be a purely documentary effort; to what end I had no idea. So, most afternoons I went to confront the enemy. I did nothing with the negatives: they were never printed, merely filed and left to gather a bit of dust. Recently I found the notebook with the negatives, not yet proofed but in good condition. Scanning the negatives was a revisit to 1990.

Oddly, the images are not quite as shocking as I had initially thought they would be. In fact there is even a perverse beauty in some of the damaged landscape. The viewer will have to be the judge for him- or her-self whether this is true.

I was expecting that I might feel animosity toward the workers. The contrary was true. They were friendly. They seemed fully aware of what they were being paid to do, but took no evident pride in it. At least not in the destruction. They were family men. They needed the work. They took time to rescue new-born squirrels from a fallen tree. Like myself they deplored the wanton destruction and waste of thousands of feet of timber which was buried in deep trenches beside the newly constructed roads.

Before the onslaught (above).

Site cleared for drilling rig (below).