How does hydrofracking affect the rural communities at the epicenter of drilling activity? A rich body of literature and lore from the Mountain West exists: of boomtowns, bar fights, rising rents and rising crime that accompanied oil and gas development in Wyoming and Colorado in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently in North Dakota shale oil fields.
Considerable prior evidence shows that shale development has produced some of the same impacts in Pennsylvania. Academic researchers, advocacy groups such as Food and Water Watch, and the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative’s own case studies of two high-intensity Pennsylvania drilling counties (Greene and Tioga) document traffic increases, road damage, rising rents, and growing demands on police and other first responders. (For complete references, see the full Shale Tipping Point research report.)
The Shale Tipping Point: The Relationship of Drilling to Crime, Traffic Fatalities, STDS, and Rents in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio These impacts are in addition to the environmental and public health impacts associated with hydrofracking, ranging from incidence of childhood asthma in Texas to water contamination in Pennsylvania to seismic activity in Ohio and more recently in Oklahoma.
In many states, drilling activity is regulated by state officials, leaving local officials to manage the consequences. A better understanding of what impacts are likely to occur and when to expect them can help local governments and residents anticipate and plan for — or take steps to avoid — the negative community consequences of shale development.
In this report, the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative examined potential shale-related impacts, that have been identified in our prior work and that of others, to determine at what point the effects become evident. We looked at three states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia) and divided counties in those states into three levels of drilling activity — low, moderate and high — to better understand the relationship between the density of drilling and the severity of impacts.
We used non-drilling rural and non-drilling urban counties as control groups. Our analysis looked at crime, traffic fatalities, sexually transmitted diseases and housing, and found evidence of impacts in each area in high-drilling communities. We relied, of necessity, on county-level (and, in the case of housing, multi-county) data, although the impact of drilling is often localized within counties. As a result of this mismatch between the geography of drilling’s impact and our data sources, the impacts on crime, traffic fatalities, STDs, and rents are likely to be underestimated.
Our research confirmed community impacts in six high-drilling Pennsylvania counties. We found a statistical relationship between well density and increases in crime, rents, traffic fatalities and STDs. Increases also were apparent in medium- and low-drilling counties in many cases, but do not ordinarily register as “statistically significant.” It is reasonable to expect that, if the pace of drilling increases in low- and medium-drilling counties, impacts will grow to match those in high-drilling counties.
Our research includes findings in the following areas:
- Employment: Drilling has had only a limited impact on employment in the three states, particularly when measured as a share of total employment. The bulk of the employment gains were in the six high-drilling counties and those were modest. Total growth in mining and natural resources employment in the three states from 2005 to 2012 was just over 25,000 jobs, or .22% of all employment.
- Population: We found no evidence of significant population growth in any of the states resulting from drilling.
- Crime: Violent crime increased 17.7% and property crime 10.8% in the six high-drilling counties, compared to no statistically significant increases in medium- and low-drilling counties.
- Traffic fatalities: Between 2005 and 2012, traffic fatalities involving trucks in the six high-drilling counties increased by a statistically significant 27.8%, compared to 2000 to 2005.
- STDs: Since 2005, rates of chlamydia infection across all the drilling counties increased 24% to 27%, compared to non-drilling counties.
- Housing: Rents in the regions with high-drilling counties all increased from 2005 to 2012 with the biggest increases in median (10.2%) and high-end (12.3%) rents.
In human terms, in the high-drilling countries, about 130 more violent crimes, 819 more property crimes and 160 more cases of chlamydia occurred each year by 2012 compared to 2005 (i.e., before the increase in drilling). Residents, most of whom gain no benefit from the gas industry, also bear the risk of higher fatalities from traffic accidents involving trucks and of higher rents. Local governments must pay for additional first responders and staff to address rising crime, traffic fatalities, and STDs.
This analysis offers clear evidence that a high concentration of drilling over a relatively short period of time is a recipe for significant, multiple impacts. Trends that are apparent in Pennsylvania are absent in West Virginia, perhaps as a result of slower and less concentrated drilling development, and are hinted at in Ohio, where drilling accelerated in 2012, the final year of our analysis. Local and state governments may be able to avoid or mitigate the most severe impacts by better controlling the pace of drilling, perhaps with county rig limits, or longer and more thorough permit and water review processes. States should enact severance taxes to help ensure that the industry, not taxpayers, foots the bill for impacts.
Download the report in the section below