Today I interviewed Andy Ranoni, the district supervisor of engineering at Performance Technologies. He’s worked in the gas and oil industry for 4 years starting in North Dakota and now in Ohio for the past 2 years. Performance Technologies is a service company that specializes in Hydraulic Fracturing. They are one of many service companies that are hired by natural gas and oil companies to work on varies well sites.

Andy said he knew he wanted to be an engineer since he was kid building things and watching his dad work on the car, he said it was the only thing that made sense to him growing up. Once he graduated from college, he said by chance he ended up in the Gas and Oil Industry starting out as a field engineer.

This is a piece of the story that has been missing. Since I started this project i’ve wanted to sit down with an engineer in the field and literally just have a conversation with them about it. Like there is only so much you can read from online articles and books and to be able to ask questions – that you get frustrated with google (for example) for not answering – It’s like finally! Questions answered. From an actual person.

The only challenge today was that I was unable to document this meeting or anything. I snapped a photo of the sign driving in, but that was the extent of what I was able to do visually. I was able to do audio so that was good. I mean I tried, just for a portrait of some sort but there was no budging. If this had been an interview planned several weeks in advanced I would have contacted the marketing department for permission, but this all literally happened in 48 hours. I got a lot of good valuable insight so we’ll see if I can’t get that permission and go back. Maybe it’s that easy? Things I’ll learn as I go.

Next up, I followed up with two of my sources – just waiting to hear back from them. I also have in mind to contact two other people on my list of sources. It’s Tuesday? Almost Wednesday I guess. So tomorrow i’m getting my 4×5 film developed that I shot at the Hildebrand Farm, so I’m super excited to see the outcome.

I have to finish my paper this week. I’m so thankful that I was able to take the week off from work, and that I had this interview today, now I feel like I have a sufficient amount of information to at least get a good first draft. Oh and the fact that if I don’t get this paper in this week I fail. Well… that is a pretty damn good reason too to get this paper done i’d say! After this week there are 5 weeks until the show. Oy.

To do List:

1. Finish Thesis Paper

2. Get Solo Show

3. Figure out framing

4. What kind of paper?

5. Sequencing.

6. Panic

7. (not kidding about 6.)

Ah. Aside from being off of work this week, I was finally able to go home for a while. I haven’t really “lived” or resided in Ohio for almost 4 years now, but every time I come back I realize how much I truly miss it. Even when i’m in Pittsburgh I miss it. Before I couldn’t wait to be in the city. I not only liked the idea of living in the hustle and bustle of a city, but I liked the idea of being invisible. Not to go all loner town, but there was something cool to me about getting lost in a city where nobody knew your name. You could stay and go without a trace. I loved that. Now that i’m back in my small hometown, you almost always see someone you know, even during times you’d really prefer not to see anybody you knew. Which it’s a bad thing, it’s just kinda inevitable. But those times you go to the gas station in the middle of the night wearing sweatpants that aren’t too flattering but then you don’t really care because even when you do quote on quote care you dress not too far off from that, except replace the sweatpants with jeans and the shirt usually one that could fit two people. Those moments are well, special. But including this, I miss that small town feel. I’m getting in some much needed family time too which i’m incredibly thankful for. Although this town has lost a lot of its familiarity because i’m no longer a constant around here, some still exists and i’ll take it. It’s like when i’m home I can finally gain some clarity. With clarity comes focus, which is what I need desperately. It’s gonna take a strong push to get me back to the burgh at the end of the week.

Becca v. Thesis Paper

Stay Tuned!


The Shift

So. There are roughly 6 weeks until the group show. Welp.

A couple things.

This semester has gone by so fast, it makes no sense. Where did the time go? I’ve run into a few walls these past few weeks, a lot of personal challenges and then mother nature and I are currently on non-speaking terms. I’ve been trying to get to Washington County or just other counties in PA  to just shoot around and meet people but the roads have been so BAD it’s been too dangerous to drive out that way specifically on the weekends. Last Monday after classes I was able to go out there for a short time just to scope out the area.  I just started driving towards Washington, PA without any set destination. Washington County is the second most active drilling county in Pennsylvania. According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, there are 1,014 wells in WC. Compared to other counties such as Butler that has 277 wells. I somehow made it into this place called Cecil Township just past Canonsburg. I saw a few signs posted on light posts about leasing land and a few signs in peoples’ yards that said something like “We Support Safe Drilling”. I got one of those feelings driving into that place that I knew I needed to talk to the people that lived there. I plan to go back as soon as I’m able to. This weekend I’m getting together all the work I have so far, and I’m gonna start sequencing for my book. I think this sequencing will help with this constant lost feeling I’m having. I knew this would happen at least all the time when I started this project. It’s such a complex subject that it’s nearly impossible to wrap your brain completely around it. I have no background in geology or engineering or earth science. I have my camera and a passion to understand what impact this has had and is having on our country. That’s what I have and I’m just hoping I can start a different type of dialogue.

I’ve been doing some research on natural gas pipelines and the amount of pipelines that run all across the country. The fact that there is this working network of moving natural gas beneath my feet is unfathomable. Much like the process of hydraulic fracturing. When I tell people what my project is on, they always ask me “Are you for it, or against it?” Ya know when I first heard about fracking, I would’ve told you I was 100% against it. I remember when the Power Shift March happened in Pittsburgh. I was walking to class and saw this gathering happening by the river. I stayed awhile to check things out. Then I read one of the signs that said “Don’t Frack with Our Water” and I thought “Oh my gosh this is on fracking. Why did I not know about this!” Or something along those lines. I started out by shooting the protest, then it turned into marching along with them. The energy this group had harvested was unreal. You couldn’t help but join in on the chanting, the marching, the fight. Even though you didn’t know all the things you were fighting for, it felt good to be a part of something. I hate to admit I was still very ignorant on the subject, but the feeling of being a part of something much larger than myself was the main driver. This was proof that more voices were greater than one. When I took a step back, I realized the foundation of my opinion was based on one source. Although something as empowering as a protest is the result of this, I think it’s so easy to hear something and run with it without any further research. Through the course of a year and a half I place myself in the middle. Through the stories I’ve heard and the research i’ve done, I see that fracking has brought a lot of good things to a lot of good people, and it’s also brought a lot of bad things to a lot of good people. The list of things to consider are endless.

“Don’t Frack With Our Water” Pittsburgh Power Shift, 2013

My next goal. Before Spring Break — By next Sunday. I will have contacted more of my sources, did some follow-ups and transcribed all the interviews I’ve had up to date.

The Hildebrand Farm

Today I met with Jon and Ellen Hildebrand. They live a little over an hour south of Pittsburgh, on a farm they’ve lived on for 28 years. They’ve had 5 natural gas wells drilled on their property, and plan to drill 3 more. They are 1 of 3 farms in the area with a well pad on their land.

I’ve never met a couple that loved their land more than these too. They shared with me the story of how they came to find their land and the different challenges they’ve faced over the years. Ellen was deemed the title “Sheperdess” back when they used to raise sheep. While Jon was at work, she would heard the sheep on the farm. She had the Shepard hook and everything.  We all cracked up when they told this story. They eventually had to get rid of their sheep though because too many coyotes and wild dogs would get them. Sheep are cute, but not the quickest of animals. They moved on to raising cattlefor meat, and that is what they continue to do today.

I had with me a large format, medium format and my 35mm. Then a H4N zoom recorder and my digital just in case something malfunctioned with my other cameras. I’d like to only shoot film with this project, but depending on the situation it may alternate.  Gosh, today was the first time in over a year I shot using large format. This morning I slightly panicked because I had a moment where I couldn’t remember how to load the film into the holders. Yikes..So luckily, youtube users saved the day. Thank goodness for Youtube? I should’ve. Yeah, should’ve. Tested everything out the night before. But i’ll learn for next time! Maybe. Anyways I just cant get over large format cameras. It makes you slow down and focus. Sometimes Becca needs that in her life. There’s nothing else like it. Today I also had my friend Dominique with me. Jon and Ellen are her aunt and uncle. Having another person their helped out more than I anticipated. With that being said, I think it’s incredibly beneficial to have another person there to help, whether that’s hosting a second recorder, or recording audio while you shoot or whatever. It makes a difference. I’m also glad she got to spend time with family she hasn’t seen in awhile. So today worked out in more ways than one.

I left the farm feeling both exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I love learning about new people, and definitely learned a lot from the Hildebrands.


Lets see what the rest of this month has to offer. I’m calling this week production week…gonna hopefully reach out to my other ledes and see where things go from there.

Now it’s time to write an essay for World Lit II…keep forgetting these obligations exist too.

No music this time. Though I’ve been on a Radiohead kick the past week. Not to be typical or state the obvious, but Creep is one of the greatest songs ever composed.

Alright second week of February, lets go!


Elevator Pitches

Alright, lets talk about these past 8 days.

Things are happening! Definitely getting more comfortable with cold e-mails and elevator pitches – and I’m feeling pretty good about where things are going. Slightly overwhelmed, but also thrilled to meet some of these people and hear their stories. I have a lot of questions to construct and send as well as do more research on specific job positions. I contacted someone who has leased land and has agreed to be interviewed and share his family’s experience with fracking on their property. This is happening the first week of Feb. It wont fit in the deadline I gave myself, but it’s definitely a start. I have another interview set up with someone who utilizes renewable energy. This interview date will also exceed my deadline. Yeah know, what I’ve realized is that if I talk to anyone about fracking, most have some type of connection to it or know of someone. This is interesting, because you just never know what ties everyone has and it’s actually not surprising that at least someone knows something or someone associated with hydrofracking. This weekend I actually met someone from Denmark who has family members who are fracking activists. I plan on contacting her father soon and hopefully hear his perspective on whats happening in his town in Europe. I’m really excited about this! The challenge here is he doesn’t speak very good English, so I’m relying on google translate.. I’ve never used this before so we’ll see what happens!

Moving on to my thesis paper…Ugh.

This guy has been neglected.

So lets see if I cant actually meet my deadline with this.

Band playing while typing this: Foxing

(This is something I might start doing for every post. Personally, I’m always curious as to what people are listening to while they type any piece of writing. There are several times too where I just want to ask people with headphones in, “Hey whatcha listening to?” just out of curiosity.) – Becca fun fact.

14 Days

Today is January 18th.

That means I have negative 4 months until my thesis show but actually I have 3 1/2 months to get all my interviews, photos, and finished paper. Yikes.

Possible? I think so.

Difficult? Absolutely.

Determined? Undoubtedly.

I often get in this routine of, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Tomorrow comes. “Oh, it’s (insert something ridiculous) i’ll do it tomorrow” and so on. It’s a terrible thing to get into, but what i’ve realized is that the time is right NOW. There is no better time to reach out, write it down, or make something. Create something, even if it’s terrible at least you’re doing something. I find making terrible work to be more encouraging than discouraging. Because you’re always learning something! Make it a point to learn at least SOMETHING.

My dad is a carpenter/painter/plasterer/badass. He built the house i’m sitting in as I type this. Unreal right! He’s one of the most talented people I know. The craftsman’s craftsman. So about a week ago I asked him if he would help me make a picture frame. Sounds pretty simple right? I had thought about making my own frames for my thesis show and this would be my first taste of what that would feel/look like to construct my own frames.


The first frame we made I did about 40% of it. It turned out great though! The second one, I thought “Ok, i’m gonna try and do this on my own now. Here we go.” Well, even after WoodShop 101- the table saw was STILL TERRIFYING. And when you get as close as 1.5 inch boarders, you’re only a breath away from cutting off fingers. So. my dad had to intervene. After we got the pieces cut for the boarders, then came time for the angles. Which is the toughest part about framing. Last time we used an electric saw to cut the angles, which still took a couple hours. It was a lot of placing the pieces on the table, and trying to figure out how to get rid of the gaps between pieces so it was a lot of improv cutting getting the angles even. But it turned out great in the end. SO. The frame we made last night, I decided, “hey wouldn’t it be more accurate if we hand sawed the angles?” Let me tell you, I had no idea how difficult it was to saw wood! Not to sound pathetic, but it definitely gave me a new perspective on woodcraft and I gained a compassion for the folks that didn’t have table saws, and electric saws back in the day when everything was made from hand. I cant image building a house by hand!

It was a fun experience though. My great-grandpa would of probably laughed at me about my sawing skills. I was in kindergarten when I would go over to his workshop with my brother, who would’ve been in 2nd grade. His workshop always smelled like cigars and fresh cut wood. A smell you never forget. He would use the empty cigar boxes to house nails or bolts of all sizes and they’d be lined up on the shelf, from what I can remember. I remember my brother was really into pine car derby racing when he was in the boy scouts, so my great-grandpa helped him build one. He was always working on something.

The lesson I learned was that woodcraft is not as easy as it may seem, and much like any craft, you’re gonna make work that can be very disappointing and probably not like you envisioned it to be. But as I said early on, i’m more encouraged now to try it again rather than give up.

finished picture frame

So with my thesis? I’m giving myself a deadline. Feb. 1st (14 days) to have at least 2 more pages written of my thesis and 2-3 interviews.


The first post

I’ve created this blog to begin documenting my thoughts and experiences as I work on my senior thesis project I titled Fission Country. It’s a project centered around the topic of Hydraulic Fracturing. A topic I’ve been interested in since I first learned about its exsistance when I watched the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox, in my Sociological Foundations class at Point Park University. I was a sophomore at that time, and this was also the year I discovered how great it felt to be passionate about something. That something being photography. This was in the Fall of 2012. Then in the Fall of 2013 I started photographing fracking sites and tried to get as close to them as possible. Most sites I found were non-active and what was left behind was just the drill pad. I started photographing in places near my hometown of Columbiana, OH. Places such as Lisbon, OH and Rogers, OH where fracking sites are still very present. But this scar that hydraulic fracturing leaves on the land is what really sparked my interest in learning how this process affects our country. This was the beginning.

I’m interested in exploring not only the relationship the land has with fracking, but the other elemental relationships within this natural gas extraction process. I want to learn from the voices of those this has directly and indirectly effected, because I believe with that we may learn some truth to this county-dividing subject.