Farming and Environmental Subjects in the Marcellus Basin

A dairy farm in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania that has leased its mineral rights for shale gas development. (Fall 2017)

Farming and Environmental Subjects in the Marcellus Basin examines how farmer-landowners in Pennsylvania and New York have emerged as ‘shale gas subjects’ during the Marcellus shale gas boom. The lack of a comprehensive federal shale gas policy has created a highly uneven landscape of state regulations, with neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania adopting opposing policies. With this region as a timely and compelling case study, I use shale gas development as a lens to understand U.S. agriculture in times of transition. Focusing on the Twin Tiers region of New York and Pennsylvania, I employ political economy and environmentality frameworks to navigate the environmental knowledges, politics, institutions, and subjectivities which co-produce competing shale gas discourses.

I developed and deployed critical Q methodology as part of this project. My analysis uses critical Q to ask how the Marcellus shale boom is reshaping farmers’ environmental attitudes and behavior by conducting a comparative analysis between New York and Pennsylvania as bordering states with divergent regulatory approaches to shale gas. I view farmer-landowners in the region as ‘geological gatekeepers’ whose decision whether or not to lease their mineral rights to the natural gas industry facilitates opening the shale gas frontier for commodification. I illustrate how participants are embedded within institutional networks governing environmental knowledge production, circulation, application, and erasure. Farmers respond to a combination of external economic incentives, structural vulnerabilities, embeddedness in preexisting discursive networks, and internalized norms of “good” agricultural practice when deciding whether to lease their subsurface mineral rights.

In addition to several manuscripts currently under review or in progress, I am drafting a book proposal based research from this project, tentatively titled Land Rich, Cash Poor: Whiteness, Farming, Power, and the Marcellus Shale Gas Boom. The book examines the different forms of shale gas subjectivities which have emerged at the agriculture and shale gas juncture in the Marcellus region. I focus specifically on the role of settler-colonial private property relations as a deeply racialized social institution, and how it functions as a technology of power shaping these different shale gas subjectivities, perspectives, and practices.


Sneegas, G. 2022. “Producing (extra)ordinary death on the farm: Unruly encounters and contaminated calves.” Social and Cultural Geography 23(1): 63-82. LINK

Sneegas, G. 2016. “Media representations of hydraulic fracturing and agriculture: A New York case study.” Extractive Industries and Society 3(1): 95-102. LINK

Selected Presentations:

Sneegas, G. and H. Kurtz. 2022. Limits to food justice praxis: An environmentality approach to ‘alternative’ farming. ASFS / AFHVS Conference, Athens, GA, May 18-21.

Sneegas, G. 2020. ‘Not above the laws of nature’: Discourse, power, and structural vulnerability among fractivist farmers. ASFS / AFHVS Twitter Conference, July 23-25.

Sneegas, G. 2020. Don’t tread on me: Property rights, whiteness, and the “struggling family farm” in the Marcellus Shale Gas Basin. Panel Title: “Whiteness in Rural Geographies I: Productive Intersections with Critical Race Studies.” Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, Virtual AAG, April 6-10. 

Sneegas, G. 2019. Environmental subjectivity, shale gas, and agriculture: Integrating critical Q methodology and social theory in the Marcellus Basin. Department of Sociology Speaker Series, Texas A&M University, December 4.

Sneegas, G. 2019. Environmental subjectivity at the food-energy nexus: Struggling family farms and the Marcellus Shale Gas Boom. Department of Geography Colloquium Series, Texas A&M University, October 25.

Sneegas, G. 2019. ”Land rich, cash poor”: Negotiating tensions and trade-offs between farming and shale gas development. Interdisciplinary Speaker Series, University of Tennessee Sociology Department, January 30.

Sneegas, G. 2019. “Land rich, cash poor”: Extractivist ideology and structural vulnerability at the intersection of farming and shale gas development. Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, Washington, DC, April 3-7.

Sneegas, G. 2019. Shale gas development, governance, and food-water-energy entanglements. Panel Title: “Political Ecologies of the Food-Water-Energy Nexus.” Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference, Lexington, KY, February 21-23.

Sneegas, G. 2018. Agricultural Production and Shale Gas Development. Penn State Cooperative Extension, Shale Gas Development Webinar Series, November 15.

Sneegas, G. 2018. Using Critical Q Method to study environmental governance and subjectivity among farmer-landowners in the Marcellus Shale Basin. Fourth Annual Environmental Politics and Governance Conference, Stockholm, Sweden, June 28-July 1.

Sneegas, G. 2018. Producing (extra)ordinary death on the farm: Deathly knowledges and dead calves. Panel Title: “The Production of Everyday Death: Legitimizing Logics and Deathly Discourses.” Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, New Orleans, LA, April 10-14.

Sneegas, G. 2017. Producing farmers, consuming expertise: Land grant colleges and the production of neoliberal environmentality in the context of shale gas development. Panel Title: “Making a Resource I: Science and Legal Frameworks of Shale Fuels.” Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, Boston, MA, April 5-9.

Sneegas, G. 2015. Fracking the farm: Tensions and tradeoffs between governance, hydraulic fracturing, and dairy. The Future of Food Studies Conference, Harvard University, Boston, MA, October 23-25.

Sneegas, G. 2015. “I sit with the Walmarts”: Representations of fracking, risk, and class in the Pennsylvania and New York dairyscape. Annual Meetings of the American Association of Geographers, Chicago, IL, April 21-25.

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