Earthquakes and Frack-Waste: Sounds of Extraction-Related Disaster in Appalachian Ohio

I wrote an article for Cultural Studies on "Extractivism" (Volume 31, No. 2-3, 2017). Entitled, "Earthquakes and frack-waste: sounds of extraction-related disaster in Appalachian Ohio," the article is based on my ethnographic research in southeastern Ohio, where I listen to the sounds of people and places connected to the coal, gas, and oil industries, and a series of disasters that goes back nearly two centuries. To read the full article, click here.

 
 
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The article is part of a special double issue of Cultural Studies called "Cultural Studies of Extraction." The editors, Laura Junka-Aikio & Catalina Cortes-Severino, wrote in their introduction: "… Brian Harnetty also writes the collective memory of a North American mining community. However, here this memory is traced in reliance to our hearing senses: ‘Earthquakes and frack-waste: Sounds of extraction-related disaster in Appalachian Ohio’ seeks to literally listen to what energy-extraction sounds like. Building upon a sonic archive, Harnetty conveys a convincing soundscape of extraction-related disaster in a region that has experienced several extractive booms and busts, placing the life of the mining community within a larger, cyclical and more-than-human rhythmic pattern of extractive expansion and contraction, instead of a linear narrative of progress and development.

"Both Meade and Harnetty highlight the importance of affects and the politics of time in relation to extraction and extractivism. How are subjectivity and everyday life connected, on a personal level, with extractivist discourses and practices that traverse institutions, ideologies, desires, fears and longings? And how does the affective get articulated together with the temporal aspects of extractivist ideologies, for instance as a promise of development and progress of nations that the idea of ‘resources’ may raise, or as anxiety for their possible shortcomings and looming disaster, or as nostalgia for extractivist booms which have already terminated and left a memory of better times? Thinking critically and past extractivism inevitably involves problematizing the modern temporality of progress and development, in order to create and reveal other forms of being-in-time (Chakrabarty 2007), which alter and challenge the dominant narratives of neoliberalism and capitalism. Attention to the affective-temporal opens up a politics of time that is permeable to the ahistorical and the contingent, and hence also for the re-imagination of alternative futures.”

 

Abstract

This article critically listens to the sounds of energy extraction in Appalachian Ohio in the United States. It focuses on the sounds of extraction-made disaster from the nineteenth century to the present. In the region, economic busts repeatedly follow booms, and the corresponding energy soundscapes of disaster are bound with labour, capital, and environment. Economic booms become sonic booms and explosions, both below and above the ground. I explore the sonic components of disaster, and draw from local archival materials as well as contemporary field recordings. I map patterns and rhythms of destruction, noting that they are not random or novel but are instead structural components of extraction-based industry.