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“I said, ‘For the good of the farmers, let’s roll with it,’ ” he said. “We carried on life as usual. I slept at night” during the process.

When the wells are completed and pumping gas around the clock, it’s back to business for the landowners. Cows graze just outside many of the sites. Farmers tend to the land and mow their pastures. The only difference is that they’re usually riding top-of-the-line tractors, financed with gas royalties.

For Mr. Wolfe and many others in these parts, Marcellus Shale is not just a household term; it has become a way of life. Rig operators head to local bars and restaurants after their 12-hour shifts. Hotel rooms are booked weeks or months in advance, with transient workers such as Mr. Whalen making them their temporary home away from home.

Many of those employees work two or three weeks straight without a day off. The grueling schedule allows them to fly home and see their wives and children during the off weeks.

Getting noticed

But for all its prominence in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the Marcellus Shale region remains an unknown commodity in Washington, D.C.

“Nobody is hardly mentioning natural gas down here. Nobody in this town is talking natural gas,” said Mr. Ridge, sounding almost bewildered as he lamented the nation’s lack of a comprehensive energy policy.

That is slowly changing.

Congress now has a Natural Gas Caucus dedicated to promoting the fuel’s viability. It was co-founded last year by Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican.

A Marcellus Shale Caucus, co-founded by Rep. Mark S. Critz, a Democrat who represents Washington County, and Rep. Tom Reed, New York Republican, is in the works.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens and other energy moguls have launched public relations campaigns on behalf of natural gas, pushing for vehicle retrofitting and service station upgrades to take advantage of the Marcellus Shale. Some major companies, such as Waste Management Inc., have invested in natural gas fleets. Mr. Ridge said many others will follow suit, especially facing skyrocketing prices at the gas pump.

Many still have reservations, and protests are common outside gas company offices. When drilling is on its way, township meetings are often contentious.

The local resistance is driven by a lack of knowledge, industry backers say. Insiders also acknowledge that they haven’t done enough to address some local concerns.

“We suffer from some self-inflicted wounds,” said Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella. “We’ve not been proactive enough as an industry to provide the answers. We used to fly below the radar. That doesn’t work anymore. If people have questions and you don’t address those questions, you’re viewed as having something to hide. And, at that point, anybody can fill that vacuum” with misinformation or politically motivated attacks.

Demystifying the process

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