Scott Goldsmith was a newcomer to the topic of Marcellus Shale drilling when he began taking photos of the Hallowich family of Western Pennsylvania in 2010.
The Hallowiches became well known as the Washington County family that moved into what they thought was their dream home and then had health problems that they believed were caused by drilling on their property.
The family left their home and sued several drilling companies, settling the case out of court. The court records are sealed.
Goldsmith, a Pittsburgh photographer, came to know the Hallowiches early in their fight and took photos and videos of them for National Geographic. Later, the judge in the case issued a gag order and Goldsmith could no longer photograph them.
Now, the Hallowich family and Goldsmith have something in common: They all believe that drilling has health and evnvironmental consequences. Stephanie Hallowich became an activist against fracking, the drilling method of injecting chemicals and water deep into the shale formation.
Goldsmith, who lives with his family in Bellevue, Pa., said he has seen too much: the problems the Hallowiches had with their water, the fish kills after frack-pond fluid was released into a stream, the close proximity of gas ponds to areas where livestock graze and people live.
This year, he continued to photograph the effects of drilling as one of six photographers of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, but with a different perspective.
“I think about it all the time… every hour,” he said of his conviction that drilling’s detrimental impact may outweigh the financial advantages it brings to some. “Our family is so concerned, we’re thinking of moving….I really love Pittsburgh. I’m just in awe of the beauty of Western Pennsylvania, but it’s hard to imagine what’s going on with this.”
The impact of drilling on people’s health is his greatest concern.
For his own family, he drives from his home in Bellevue to the Whole Foods in Shadyside regularly to fill up plastic bottles with water that has been through a reverse osmosis process that cleans tap water.
Goldsmith said he hopes the final show of the six photographers that will open in October in Pittsburgh will help people understand the truth of what’s going on around drilling.
“Not enough people in the area are really informed about this,” he said. “I’d like for there to be a more educated populace.”
Goldsmith would like to see a moratorium on fracking. But he’s a realist. “It’s too late to stop it altogether,” he said. “There’s too much money involved.”
Caption corrections: Nate Hallowich was looking for lightning bugs on a neighbor's property, and David Headley's property is in Fayette County.