By Joel Achenbach, Published: June 3
UNIONTOWN, PA — This is coal country, even if there’s hardly any coal anymore. The elders can name the coal veins and describe their dimensions. People will still say, “I grew up in the patch.” That means they were raised in a cluster of company houses back in a hollow near the mouth of a mine. The kids would play king-of-the-hill on gobheaps of broken slate and mining waste.
The company houses are still there, but the gobheaps are overgrown. Hidden in the brush are the ruins of the beehive ovens that turned coal into coke and blackened the skies along the western slope of the Alleghenies.
The big play now is natural gas. Fayette County, which borders West Virginia about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh, is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale. Civic leaders hope that fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of the shale rock to liberate the gas in its pores — can reverse the fortunes of this depressed region.
This part of Pennsylvania is a political and economic battleground, a transitional place loaded with history, with memories of prosperity but also of vicious poverty. It’s on the front line of America’s economic doldrums, and it is not incidentally a swing county in presidential elections.Share This Post