Hydraulic fracturing has been booming in the last decade in the United States. While natural gas extraction and production has improved the national energy security, it has raised questions around the water security of those communities where extraction is taking place. Both scientists and residents are concerned about hydraulic fracturing’s impacts on surface- and groundwater, especially regarding how hydraulic fracturing impacts residents’ access to safe household well water. In the past decade, the Marcellus Shale has been developed in Northwestern West Virginia, yet the human geography dimensions of oil and gas extraction in West Virginia remain to be investigated. This article, based on 30 in-depth interviews, explores household groundwater insecurity due to hydraulic fracturing experienced by residents (i.e., mineral owners, surface owners, and concerned citizens) in Northwestern West Virginia. The concept of water affect is used to attend to the emotional and subjective dimensions of water security by unveiling the power, emotional struggles, and mental stress inherent in water testing practices and environmental regulation around hydraulic fracturing. Water testing is typically conducted by contractors hired by oil and gas companies, but it is mired in delayed test results and incorrect testing procedures, triggering residents’ negative feelings toward oil and gas companies. This article furthers the understanding of water security, commonly defined in terms of individual access to adequate water quality and quantity, by studying Appalachian residents’ anxieties about well water contamination and uncertainty around the long-term water impacts of hydraulic fracturing. By investigating the uneven power relations around groundwater in West Virginia, the emotional experiences and responses are articulated to further the notion of water affect as impacting household groundwater security.
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