The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Makanda native documents fracking in Pennsylvania

  • A Southern Illinois native returned to the region last week to help Southern Illinois University students with a project on documenting a week in Harrisburg.
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  • A Southern Illinois native returned to the region last week to help Southern Illinois University students with a project on documenting a week in Harrisburg.
    Julia Rendleman is a Makanda native who was awarded the Sidney prize of the Sidney Hillman Foundation for her work documenting a community for the Pittsburg Post Gazette. Over a period of three months she photographed members of the community in the The Woodlands of about 200 houses who have a serious water problem.
    Rendleman, a 2010 graduate of SIU, first became exposed to the oil and gas industry in Louisiana working at the Houma Courier and covering the Deepwater Horizon spill.
    For the past year and a half she has worked at the Pittsburg Post Gazette assigned to the Pennsyvania hydraulic fracturing method of oil and gas extraction. Her coverage initially was limited to photographs of congressional hearing and protests.
    "As a visual journalist, sometimes (fracking) isn't a visual story. A gas well in the middle of a cornfield is boring," Rendleman said.
    "On daily assignments I was sent to congressional hearings and protests, but it grew a little redundant with the same contingent of 'fracktivists' and taking pictures of signs.
    "I wanted to see the water."
    She got her chance when someone involved with Marcellus Outreach Butler — an activist group — told her The Woodlands community of Butler County had lost its clean water supply and was dependent on a church water drive.
    The water became significantly fouled in January of 2010.
    "The water smelled like rotten eggs and might be purple or orange. In one case a woman's well ran dry," Rendleman said.
    Some people experienced violent diarrhea and vomiting.
    "A few people experienced skin rashes when they bathed," she said.
    One house had flammable water.
    Initially the Rex Energy drilling company that began drilling in Butler County in late 2010 provided clean water tanks. When the company and the state tested the water and could find no evidence the pollutants were linked to fracking, the company pulled the water tanks.
    The people of The Woodlands were upset and many initially were hesitant to tell their story to the press. That changed and the photos of a couple showering in a makeshift bathroom in the front yard made the story more powerful than print alone.
    "It's one thing to say this is 'Janet McIntyre,' but it's another to show the photograph," Rendleman said.
    After the story ran the Public Utility Commission launched an investigation on the water and a reader donated $3,000 to supply residents with water through Christmas. Others have since contributed to the cause.
    The story is ongoing. Residents banded together to launch a lawsuit against Rex Energy in June and a preliminary hearing is scheduled in November.
    Page 2 of 2 - Rendleman received the Sidney award in September of 2012.
    "I think obviously fracking in Pennsylvania has been covered extensively. But I think it was the human interest element (that interested the Sidney Hillman Foundation). We were able to show real people and real moments in their lives," Rendleman said.
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