Several years ago, land owners in the forested rolling hills of West Virginia started getting unannounced visitors. They would examine the land, the soil, the trees, and offer to lease part of the property for $7 per acre up-front, plus a share of the profits that would inevitably come from the activities they had planned. These men were representatives of energy companies – Chesapeake, perhaps, or Total – and they wanted to drill for coal and natural gas. They really wanted it: landowners who stood their ground were ultimately offered up to $3000 per acre.
The resulting rush of activity brought rapid and stark changes are to a region largely left behind by previous episodes of economic growth. Toggling between satellite images taken a couple of years apart shows the appearance of drilling rigs, wastewater retention ponds, and storage tanks, pockmarks of activity across this rural swath of Appalachia.
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