Fracking Middle America: Why did so many blue states turn red?

Having spent time back in Pennsylvania this summer I now understand Trump’s appeal

Sandy Sheerin: ‘Plans to begin fracking seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.’

Sandy Sheerin: ‘Plans to begin fracking seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.’

 

Emigrating to Pennsylvania at the age of 10 in 1987 was quite an experience. We left behind the bustling metropolis of Dublin for a little town that seemed like something out of The Walton’s. Pleasant Mount was about 40 minutes’ drive north of the city of Scranton and it was just as quaint as it sounds. The population shot up to more than 1,000 with our arrival.

Scranton used to be a centre of mining and industry. Lackawanna County, which is in the area of Scranton, had long been known for coal mining and progressive steel railroads. This prosperity in turn fed into the economic situation of places like our hometown. Factories were built and manufacturing flourished bringing employment and wealth to similar towns across the county.

My parents opened a small store and country kitchen, which we all worked in. For years, the business was a gold mine. New Yorkers were buying summer homes in the area, the local ski resort was thriving and small business owners could make money. Even family-run dairy farms could make a living. Getting funding for roads, schools, care programmes and more was not very difficult.

Moved operations overseas

Over the past 30 years, however, things have changed greatly. Manufacturing plants have closed here and moved their operations overseas. Small family stores have shut and Walmart shops have opened up. Tourism has nearly ceased. It has become economically depressed. Remnants from the boom times, such as the old steel railroad tracks and the Lackawanna coal mines, are still prominent to this day, but nothing is the same.

When I was growing up and working in our shop, I learned a lot about the people there. You notice when there is an increase in food stamps and a decrease in purchases of certain items.

About 10 years ago, plans to begin fracking seemed to offer a glimmer of hope as large gas companies began to roll into town. It was like a scene from There Will Be Blood as salesmen offered landowners lucrative leases and cash.

I distinctly remember the feeling of optimism in the air at the town meetings my Dad was involved in; the locals practically bounded through the doors buoyed up by hopes that their days of struggle would soon be a distant memory. It felt like a new era was dawning once again.

Testing for shale gas showed there is convertible gas to be fractured, but the authorities in the Delaware Basin Commission put a stop to drilling in Wayne County to study the environmental impact. Mount Pleasant is in Wayne County. A neighbouring county, though, received permission to drill and, while the number of jobs created never hit the numbers anticipated, for a brief period, it brought some promise of a brighter future.

I spent last summer in our town. Initially I was astounded to see how many Donald Trump signs were planted in lawns outside houses. The more time I spent in the area, however, the more I began to understand why.

Improved opportunities

It is not about racism, misogyny or hatred. It is about the hope of improved employment, infrastructure and opportunities.

The promise of reversing their fortunes and becoming prosperous once more has excited those Trump supporters and breathed new life into them.

It is the same feeling that I saw in those town hall meetings 10 years ago. This is why so many voters pushed Trump to his victory across middle America.

Whether I agree or not with Trump as the president-elect is irrelevant. I do, however, believe that there needs to be recognition of the reasons for these blue states that turned red.

Sandy Sheerin returned to Ireland from the United States 15 years ago. For the past nine years she has been living between the two countries, working on communications projects.

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