Farmers, Fairness & the Farm Bill

where issues of producers, policy and equity converge

A Collaborative Research Project with Rural Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition & American University's School of International Service (Washington, DC)


Land Grabbing and Farm Swaps

Erica Christensen and Sarah Howell

“Land grabbing” – a recently created term used to describe the large-scale acquisition of land by foreign governments or industry—has been occurring globally at greater frequency and also in greater amounts. While the international land grabbing phenomenon has been discussed at length, not much attention has been paid to the land grabbing of American soils. The need for increased energy efficiency, sustainability, and independence has put pressure on those seeking alternative fuel sources from our lands. American farmland, which once produced commodities and food for human consumption, is now being swapped for shale gas exploration.

The following maps were created to help visualize this "farm swap" in Pennsylvania, which is a current hotbed of natural gas development and significant agricultural producer.

The Pennsylvania Farm Swap

"The Pennsylvania Farm Swap" shows the swapping of farmland for shale gas well development and exploration. Download the .pdf version of the map here.

Pennsylvania Gas Wells: 2000 and 2012, Appalachian Shale Basin

"Pennsylvania Gas Wells: 2000 and 2012, Appalachian Shale Basin" exposes the eastward expansion of natural gas exploration. The 2000 shale gas plot locations are mostly in the western half of the state (grey) and the 2012 wells and spud wells (illustrated by the pink triangles and green points) are distributed across the span of the entire state. To note, the north eastern quadrant of Pennsylvania has been dominated by gas exploration only within the past few years. Download the .pdf file version of this map here.

NE Pennsylvania Farmland and Developed Land: Shale Gas Well Locations

"NE Pennsylvania Farmland and Developed Land, Shale Gas Well Locations, March 2013" takes a closer look at the northeastern region of Pennsylvania, which has seen much of the recent growth and development due to Marcellus shale gas exploration and extraction. Whether due to the particular land type or formations that occur in farmed land in this region, or perhaps because of the ease of acquiring farmland at a cheap price, many of the gas well locations are located on land designated as farmland, or right along the margins where farmland with another land cover type. Download the .pdf file version of this map here. 

Gas Well Density in Proximity to Farm and Cropland, Pennsylvania

"Gas Well Density in proximity to Farm and Cropland, Pennsylvania" has converted the point locations of the shale gas wells, from the March 2013 data, into a density map. By visualizing this data as a density map, it is easier to detect regions where there is higher density of wells. In the northeastern region of Pennsylvania, an inset map is zoomed into this region to see in greater detail the pattern of well density and how it corresponds to the locations of farm and cropland. Download the .pdf file version of this map here. 

Pennsylvania Income Dimensions of Farmland and Shale Gas Well Locations

"Pennsylvania Income Dimensions of Farmland and Shale Gas Well Locations, March 2013," add another layer of analysis to the farm swap discussion by incorporating median income by county. It shows that despite differences income, residents of all income brackets are being exposed to shale gas development. Download the .pdf file version of this map here.

NE Pennsylvania: Income and Shale Gas Wells

The two maps above offer a side-by-side comparison of income, farmland and gas well locations in the northeastern region of Pennsylvania. The map on the left shows median income by county and the map on the right shows farmland. Download the .pdf file version the income map here and the farmland map here. 

Community partnered action research on and for U.S. agricultural policy