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Oil and gas non-disclosure agreements and their implications for rural methods

Authors: Bethani Turley*,
Topics: Rural Geography, Legal Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: water, extractive industry, oil and gas, legal geographies, rural geographies, West Virginia, Marcellus Shale
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Unconventional gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale shapes rural communities in a variety of ways, including increased economic activity, as well as the many environmental risks and nuisances posed by gas infrastructures. Drawing on interviews and participant observation carried out in rural northwestern West Virginia, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, this paper explores the methodological challenges of researching water contamination due to natural gas development. Many rural West Virginians rely on household groundwater wells, and their groundwater quality can become contaminated due to spills and leaks associated with gas extraction. When oil and gas companies are legally liable for water contamination, they can implement water storage tanks and filtration systems, or even buy out one’s home. However, these legal arrangements for remediation or compensation are often paired with non-disclosure agreements or ‘gag orders’ which restrict the homeowner’s ability to speak to the press about their water contamination. Non-disclosure agreements are legally intertwined with residents’ physical mobility and residents’ narratives about their water contamination. By their very nature, non-disclosure agreements are difficult to document and analyze, and yet they significantly shape research on water contamination in West Virginia by creating gaps or silences in the research. This paper considers the methodological implications, challenges, and practicalities of doing research on a topic and place that is shaped and silenced by the non-disclosure agreement.

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