For almost a decade a new energy boom has been underway using new technology known as “Fracking.” This invasive and disruptive technology is already having negative impacts on people and the environment. Most of the public and regulatory attention has focused on human health impacts through drinking, breathing and other means of exposure. Real life experience in communities across the country also demonstrates the social and economic problems that come along with fracking as just as uncertain and unwanted. This is particularly true for those states where the Fracking boom has been underway the longest (i.e., North Dakota and Pennsylvania.) States like North Carolina that are rushing into Fracking should slow down and learn from the troubles of others!
This article compiles the most insightful and credible news stories and research reports about documented social problems that go along with Fracking. This is not surprising to Rural Sociologist (like yours truly.) For over three decades, sociologists and others have systematically evaluated the social and economic impacts of a wide range of actions – particularly related to mining. In fact, the formal practice of Social Impact Analysis (SIA) was mandated under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) signed by Richard Nixon in 1970. This required Federal government agencies to conduct Social Impact Assessment as part of their Environmental Impact Assessment (e.g., Army Corps, NOAA, Depart. of Interior and others.) In addition, SIA has become strongly established in Europe, Australia and elsewhere.
Click Below to Learn about the Social Impacts of Fracking.
Crime has soared as thousands of workers and rivers of cash have flowed into towns, straining police departments and shattering residents’ sense of safety. “It just feels like the modern-day Wild West,” said Sgt. Kylan Klauzer, an investigator in Dickinson, in western North Dakota. The Dickinson police handled 41 violent crimes last year, up from seven only five years ago.
To the police and residents, the violence shows how a modern-day gold rush is transforming the rolling plains and farm towns where people once fretted about a population drain. Today, four-story chain hotels are rising, and small apartments rent for $2,000 a month. Two-lane roads are jammed with tractor-trailers. Fast-food restaurants offer $300 signing bonuses for new employees, and jobs as gas station attendants can pay $50,000 a year. Workers flush with cash are snapping up A.T.V.s, and hotel menus offer crab and artichoke dip and bacon-wrapped dates.
Amid all of that new money, reports of assault and theft have doubled or even tripled, and the police say they are rushing from call to call, grappling with everything from bar brawls and shoplifting to kidnappings and attempted murders. Traffic stops for drunken or reckless driving have skyrocketed; local jails are spilling over with drug suspects.
Last year, a study by officials in Montana and North Dakota found that crime had risen by 32 percent since 2005 in communities at the center of the boom. In Watford City, N.D., where mile-long chains of tractor-trailers stack up at the town’s main traffic light, arrests increased 565 percent during that time. In Roosevelt County in Montana, arrests were up 855 percent, and the sheriff, Freedom Crawford, said his jail was so full that he was ticketing and releasing offenders for minor crimes like disorderly conduct. …
Federal prosecutors say the boom’s riches have attracted opportunists and criminals. Mexican cartels and regional methamphetamine and heroin traffickers have proliferated, hoping to tap the same sources of wealth that have turned farmers into millionaires and shaved unemployment rates to as low as 0.7 percent.
“It’s following the money,” said Michael W. Cotter, the United States attorney for Montana. “I hate to call the cartels entrepreneurs, but they’re in the business to make money. There’s a lot of money flying around that part of Montana and North Dakota.”
Over the last year, the police and prosecutors in North Dakota, Montana and Canada have tried to crack down on drug traffickers and the most violent offenders systematically with an effort they call Project Safe Bakken, named for the rich oil formation under the plains. The F.B.I. is adding a handful of agents to the region. Federal officials have charged more than two dozen people they say were trafficking drugs into the area.
As more families arrive, domestic-violence shelters are also filling up, often with similar stories of troubled migrations. Families arrived hoping for $20-an-hour jobs, but discovered that modest homes rent for $2,000 and that things like gasoline and dinner cost more. The stresses of life piled up. Alcohol and drugs added to the problem. Old patterns of domestic abuse crossed state lines.
The rich shale oil formation deep below the rolling pastures here has attracted droves of young men to work the labor-intensive jobs that get the wells flowing and often generate six-figure salaries. What the oil boom has not brought, however, are enough single women.
At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison. “It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”
This has complicated life for women in the region as well. Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth. “So many people look at you like you’re a piece of meat,” said Megan Dye, 28, a nearly lifelong Williston resident. “It’s disgusting. It’s gross.”
Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults. “There are people arriving in North Dakota every day from other places around the country who do not respect the people or laws of North Dakota,” said Ariston E. Johnson, the deputy state’s attorney in neighboring McKenzie County, in an e-mail.
Over the past six years, North Dakota has shot from the middle of the pack to become the state with the third-highest ratio of single young men to single young women in the country. In 2011, nearly 58 percent of North Dakota’s unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds were men, according to census data. That disparity was even starker in the three counties where the oil boom is heaviest — there were more than 1.6 young single men for every young single woman.
And most people around here say the gap is considerably larger. Census data mostly captures permanent residents. Most of the men who come here to work maintain their primary residences elsewhere and split time between the oil fields and their homes. And women note that many of the men who approach them are married. Some women have banked on the female shortage. Williston’s two strip clubs attract dancers from around the country. Prostitutes from out of state troll the bars.
Natasha, 31, an escort and stripper from Las Vegas, is currently on her second stint here after hearing how much money strippers made in Williston on a CNN report last year. Business in her industry is much better here than in the rest of the country, she said. She makes at least $500 a night, but more often she exceeds $1,000. “We make a lot of money because there’s a lot of lonely guys,” she said. …
Jessica Brightbill, a single 24-year-old who moved here from Grand Rapids, Mich., a year and a half ago, said she was walking to work at 3:30 in the afternoon when a car with two men suddenly pulled up behind her. One hopped out and grabbed her by her arms and began dragging her. She let her body go limp so she would be harder to drag. Eventually, a man in a truck pulled up and began yelling at the men and she got away, she said. The episode left her rattled.
Going out alone is now out of the question, and the friend she moved here with no longer has much time to spend with her because she has since found a boyfriend and had a baby. Ms. Brightbill said she has difficulty finding other young single women with the freedom to hang out. And, she said, finding good men does not come easy. “It’s just people trying to have sex,” she said. But some women have taken aggressive steps to protect themselves.
Oil has brought enormous economic prosperity to the busiest city in North Dakota’s booming oil patch, but also has exacerbated problems in housing, infrastructure and traffic, even pushing some “stressed out” older residents to move away, Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told industry and government officials Tuesday.
Koeser said the city is experiencing exciting times and unprecedented wealth but it’s far from figuring out how to survive the biggest oil rush in the nation. “We’re still in the middle of it and we’re still trying to deal with it,” Koeser told an audience of several hundred at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo in Bismarck.
North Dakota has risen from the nation’s ninth-leading oil producing state to the nation’s No. 2 producer in just six years, with advanced horizontal drilling techniques in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations in the western part of the state. State statistics show a record 213 rigs were drilling in the oil patch as of Tuesday. Koeser said 90 percent of the drill rigs are piercing the prairie within 90 miles of his city.
The population in Williston has doubled in the past decade to some 30,000 residents and the average wage there has risen from about $32,000 in 2006 to about $80,000, Koeser said. More than half of Williston’s residents now work in oil-related jobs, and the city’s unemployment rate is at 1 percent, “which I believe is the lowest in the U.S.,” he said.
There are some 3,000 unfilled jobs in the city, Koeser said. While many cities across the nation would be envious of Williston’s success, the city now holds some dubious distinctions. Koeser said the city “hasn’t been sitting on its hands” and has done its best to keep up with the explosion of activity. But the hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing construction and infrastructure improvements have failed to keep pace with the explosion of drilling activity in the area.
Koeser said the city ranks No. 1 in the nation for housing shortages and rent inflation. A one bedroom apartment is fetching more than $2,300 monthly, matching or exceeding those in the nation’s biggest cities. “Rent is a huge problem, especially for senior citizens on fixed incomes, Koeser said. Oil-related traffic is causing headaches and torn-up roads, he said. “It’s hard to imagine anywhere else in the country that deals with so many trucks,” Koeser said.
Oil and natural gas drilling have given many rural American towns a huge economic boost. Landowners have sold their mineral rights for tens of thousands of dollars, and farmers make millions from land leases. Big oil and gas companies create six-figure jobs, and the competition drives up wages in nearly every employment sector. At the same time, energy booms have placed increased pressure on local law enforcement. In boomtowns, communities see an influx of outside workers, and these outsiders bring many problems with them. Police department administrators, masters-level criminal justice administrators (click here to learn more about this type of degree) and other law enforcement leaders are grappling with how to prevent crime and other problems in energy boomtowns. They’ve defined four main challenges: infrastructure problems, alcohol-related crimes, inadequate housing and police officer turnover.
In rural areas, infrastructure has become stressed by the presence of oil and gas companies. Constant construction and heavy equipment on roadways make responding to police calls difficult. Many oil companies set up camps for their workers or build housing for them, but they fail to paint numbers on the houses or set up authorized addresses. Because the map is constantly changing, police simply can’t find the people whom they need to find. Large vehicles also congest roadways, which means responding to calls requires more time. If officers need backup, they are unsure when their backup will arrive. Congestion problems also contribute to more traffic accidents. All in all, inadequate infrastructure places both residents and officers in increased danger.
Around the turn of the 20th century, miners flocked to Butte, Mont., to find work during the copper rush. Butte became widely known for its red light district, which included saloons as well as options for just about any existing vice. Men significantly outnumbered women, resulting in more fights and alcohol-related incidents. Today’s oil and gas boomtowns aren’t dissimilar from 20th-century Butte. According to an October 2013 article in “Atlantic Monthly,” police officers in Williston, N.D., a boomtown on the Bakken shale, blame alcohol for between 80 and 90 percent of their calls. Some officers confess that they’ve stopped taking complaints and calls from people under the influence. Bar fights, DUIs and domestic violence calls have more than doubled—twice—since 2005.
In many boomtowns, high rents and a lack of affordable housing causes some oil and gas company workers to live in camps, in RVs or even in their cars. Homeless shelters have no available beds, and when churches pitch in to help, their parking lots fill with homeless people. Living in such close quarters, according to police officers, contributes dramatically to domestic violence incidents. In addition to causing problems for oil and gas workers, a lack of housing makes police recruitment difficult. When new officers come into boomtowns, they often stay with other officers until they can find places to live. If no housing opens up, then new officers look elsewhere for jobs.
Police Officer Turnover
Police departments and other law enforcement agencies have a difficult time maintaining a complete workforce. New people pouring into town and constant police turnover torpedo all community policing efforts. Officers no longer know the people in their towns or recognize their vehicles. They simply react to emergency after emergency until they can no longer keep up with calls. Oil and gas company jobs draw many away from public service, and law enforcement can’t compete with the salaries offered by the energy industry. In addition to inadequate housing for new officers, new officers receive pay raises that can’t compete with the cost of living. Poor retention means fewer experienced officers in police departments, which means inexperienced officers are responding to violent incidents around town.
Although oil and gas companies have brought prosperity to rural areas in many ways, they’ve also placed many burdens on local government and local police. When governments ask for more tax revenue or other changes, energy companies simply threaten to leave. Inevitably, energy reserves will run out, and energy companies will move elsewhere. As residents of Butte learned after copper reserves disappeared, small towns usually aren’t winners when the commodities boom goes bust.
North Dakota’s economy outpaced every other state in 2011, with the fastest growth in personal income, jobs and home prices, according to Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, or BEES, index data. Yet the oil boom fueling the nation’s lowest unemployment rate also has a dark side. It’s pushing rural North Dakota’s housing, electric, water, police and emergency services to the breaking point. …
Drilling in the Bakken formation, a 360-million-year-old shale bed two miles underground that geologists believe holds a 15,000 square-mile region of oil in North Dakota alone, foisted big-city concerns onto rural communities where everyone knew each other, no one locked doors, and business deals were sealed with a handshake.
Prices for gasoline and groceries in Mountrail and Williams counties — the heart of the boom — are 30 percent higher than in the state’s largest cities. Lines to eat at local restaurants often top an hour. Finding a plumber or a handyman can take weeks and often cost three times as much as it did three years ago. …
Residents are forced to reconcile their declining quality of life with undeniable gains in prosperity. North Dakota reported the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in December at 3.3 percent, compared to 8.5 percent nationwide, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state is also seeing significant wage gains, with the average annual salary growing 79 percent in Williams County, to $56,857 in 2010 when compared to 2005, and 67 percent in Mountrail County over the same period, according to the bureau.
Higher tax receipts fostered by oil-industry revenue are helping finance a new water pipeline, rehabilitation of the state penitentiary and renovation of the state’s heritage center — even as calls for more housing and funding for school construction go unheeded.
The state’s three-year-old boom, which attracted thousands of workers to 17 western counties, is progressing so quickly that studies commissioned to determine infrastructure needs are outdated the moment they leave the printer. ‘“It’s almost an unmanageable population explosion,” said Vicky Steiner, a Republican state legislator and executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties.
Williams and Mountrail counties recently banned construction of “man camps” — temporary developments for oil workers — until they can expand sewer, electrical and water systems. The move put pressure on an already tight housing market, where rents for a two-bedroom without utilities skyrocketed from $350 a month to $2,000. Some workers report paying $4,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment in Williston, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of the Canadian border.
Five hotels are being built in Williston — home to 14,500 people in 2010 and about 20,000 today — and officials expect 1,200 apartments and single-family homes to be completed by summer. With 4,000 job openings, even that won’t be enough. “It’s like you take four steps forward and five backward,” said E. Ward Koeser, the city’s mayor. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s local outlet, Taco John’s and other retailers and restaurants — as well as the city itself — have trouble finding workers because of the housing shortage, Koeser said. Two recent applicants for public-works jobs in Williston were living in their cars. ….
State housing officials say escalating rents are forcing longtime residents to leave. They can’t find developers interested in building new affordable housing, they add. “Housing costs of all types are escalating much faster than income growth,” said Mike Anderson, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.
City and county officials say they’re not getting enough money back from the state — which collects an 11.5 percent tax on oil — to finance infrastructure upgrades. “No one ever anticipated this type of impact,” said Donald W. Longmuir Jr., a planner and emergency coordinator for Mountrail County. “We’re actually three to five years behind in funding.”
Calls to the county’s volunteer ambulance and fire services tripled since 2009, Longmuir said. Mountrail’s 1,600-mile road system — which became so overloaded last spring that officials ran out of “road closed” signs, and postal carriers were unable to deliver the mail to some places — needs to be rebuilt at a price tag of $600 million, Hynek said. …
The North Dakota Legislature set aside $1.2 billion last spring to help counties cope with the oil boom’s impacts. About $885.3 million remains to be distributed. Demand for aid is high. The state received 167 applications last fall for $50 million in road improvement grants alone, said Gerry Fisher, assistant director of the state’s energy infrastructure and impact office.
American Boomtown: The Costs and Benefits of Getting Rich in Williston, ND by Malcolm Logan – September 6th, 2013
In and around Williston 4,000 oil wells tap away at the ground every day. North Dakota is now the second largest oil producing state in the country. Waiting for a cheeseburger at the McDonalds in Williston, North Dakota I noticed something I hadn’t seen for a long time. The manager was irritated with his staff, snapping at them, frustrated by their incompetence. My first thought was that this man was not equal to his position. But then I began to think differently when I saw a sign in the window that said: Due to the Employment Shortage the Dining Room May be Closed. Please Use the Drive-Up.
It occurred to me that Williston was indeed a different sort of place, which was why I had come here in the first place. Williston is experiencing something few other American towns have experienced for a long time; they have far more jobs than they have people to fill them. In Williston Walmart has doubled its hourly wage to $17 per hour in a desperate attempt to keep people. The manager’s frustration with his employees had to do with the fact that most of his staff were newly trained, not because the restaurant was new but because his previous staff had quit, moving on to better jobs and higher wages, forcing him to rehire, and this wasn’t the first time. This had happened again and again.
As it turns out, it is almost impossible to keep staff at low paying jobs in Williston these days, resulting in a maddening cycle of training and retraining. Few workers remain long enough to master their duties. The ensuing lack of competence can drive management around the bend. The Walmart in Williston finally caved and doubled the hourly wage from $8.50 to $17. Truck drivers and common laborers now make more than $70,000 a year in Williston. Oil field workers command six figures. The unemployment rate in Williston has plunged to 1%.
More than 7 billion barrels oil lie in the Bakken Formation. Extracting it has already made America a net exporter of oil. Williston is booming and it all has to do with a vast underground rock formation that contains more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a formation called the Bakken Formation.
The Bakken Formation covers more than 200,000 square miles of Montana, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota. Geologists have known of its existence since 1953 and understood its potential for energy production from the start. But the Bakken Formation was not effectively exploited until 2008 when the advent of rock fracturing technology (“fracking”) permitted access to its vast resources.
As a result North Dakota has now become the second largest energy producing state in the US, outstripping Alaska. In and around Williston 4,000 oil wells tap away at the ground every day, and more are on the way. Former farmers, scratching out a living on the bleak North Dakota plains, have become overnight millionaires leasing their land to big energy companies. It is estimated that 12 new millionaires are created each week through leasing agreements.
But to look at Williston you don’t see a gleaming new Houston or Kuwait City. You see a small town shocked by its sudden collision with good fortune. This place had a population of less than 13,000 in 2008. The population was actually declining when the oil boom hit. Now the population stands at more than 26,000 and is projected to double again in the next three years, and every three years after that as long as the oil and natural gas hold out – and they are projected to hold out for a long time.
To look at Williston today, you see the next major American city in its infancy, trying to take its first steps, and the results are by turns whimsical and frightening. On Route 85 just north of town workers are hammering away at what will be a spanking new Hampton Inn. Across the street a rival Holiday Inn is being thrown up as quickly as possible. Lodging here can’t keep up with the pace of new arrivals. The town is routinely booked up. Discount hotels charge $200 a night.
Housing is a major issue. People arriving here to snatch up high paying jobs find themselves living in tents or sleeping in cars. The Walmart parking lot became a makeshift campground until shoppers had trouble navigating the helter-skelter of RV’s and pop-up tents to find a parking slot. Now Walmart has chased them off.
Logistics companies like VEC Technology and Target Logistics have come to the rescue with modular housing. VEC’s so-called “house” is an 8’x10’ plastic cube offering all the comforts of a tricked-out shipping container. It costs $25,000. Target logistics have erected “man camps” consisting of row upon row of plastic Quonset huts. These so called self-contained units (SCU’s) sleep up to four and include kitchens and private baths. They rent for $400-$600 a month.
The man camps are Spartan and a lot like living in a box, but they’re about the best bang for your buck in Williston. Renting an apartment here can be brutal. One room apartments rent for as high as $2,500 a month. And buying a home? A two bedroom single wide manufactured home fetches $250,000. Set that against a national average of $37,000 and you get an idea of the housing crunch in Williston.
Bar fights are just one of the problems that plague a town where men outnumber women by almost 2-1. Thankfully, help is on the way. Developer KKR is fast-tracking a sprawling new subdivision that will include 810 apartments, 737 single-family homes, a park, playing fields and recreational facilities. Surely it’s only the start. But until supply catches up with demand there will be problems.
The man camps are aptly named. They consist almost entirely of men. It is estimated that the male population in Williston outnumbers the female by almost 2-1. This has made it a happy hunting ground for prostitutes and exotic dancers and a dangerous place for unattached single women.
The number of rapes and sexual assaults has increased dramatically. Williston now has a rape rate nearly four times the national average. The high profile case of Sherry Arnold, a local schoolteacher out for a jog who was abducted and murdered by two drunken oil field workers has raised alarms. The undermanned local police force is doing what they can but nights in Williston can still take on the flavor of a Wild West town with fights, brawls and raucous displays of public drunkenness. It is not for the faint of heart. What’s happening in Williston may allow us to say goodbye to this fellow and his ilk. And what a blessing that would be.
All in all, Williston bears all the earmarks of a classic American boomtown, the rowdiness, the exploitation, the crime, the opportunity, and the making of fortunes overnight. Williston’s experience is especially eye opening when set against the rest of the country where joblessness and declining wages have become the norm. But Williston’s prosperity may be an indication of good things to come for the rest of us.
With the oil being extracted from the Bakken Formation the US became a net exporter of gasoline for the first time since 1949 in February of 2012. Increased oil production combined with a decline in domestic demand due to high pump prices and better fuel efficiency has set us on a path that loosens the shackles imposed by Middle Eastern oil.
We can now foresee the day where American involvement in the Middle East is reduced commensurate with a reduction of our national interests in the region. Happily we may someday arrive at the conclusion that the dysfunctional family that is the Middle East is no longer our problem to solve, which will reduce the provocation that our presence causes there and lead to a reduction in the threat of terrorism.
Granted, it may be a bit of a stretch to draw a line between a frazzled McDonald’s manager in Williston, North Dakota and the flagging of interest by Al Qaeda in the murdering of Americans, but stranger correlations have turned the hinge of history. In any case, the new boom in American energy with all its costs and benefits is the story of progress. Where it takes us will certainly raise new questions and concerns even as it reduces old ones. But will that get me my cheeseburger any faster? To someone who isn’t paying attention it may just seem like lousy service at a fast food restaurant, but if you listen closely you can hear the sound of pages turning.
“Fracking” controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing by Hilary Boudet, Christopher Clarke, Dylan Bugden, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, & Anthony Leiserowitz (Yale University)
The recent push to develop unconventional sources of oil and gas both in the U.S. and abroad via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has generated a great deal of controversy. Effectively engaging stakeholders and setting appropriate policies requires insights into current public perceptions of this issue. Using a nationally representative U.S. sample (n=1061), we examine public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing including: “top of mind” associations; familiarity with the issue; levels of support/opposition; and predictors of such judgments. Similar to findings on other emerging technologies, our results suggest limited familiarity with the process and its potential impacts and considerable uncertainty about whether to support it. Multiple regression analysis (R2=.49) finds that women, those holding egalitarian worldviews, those who read newspapers more than once a week, those more familiar with hydraulic fracturing, and those who associate the process with environmental impacts are more likely to oppose fracking. In contrast, people more likely to support fracking tend to be older, hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, politically conservative, watch TV news more than once a week, and associate the process with positive economic or energy supply outcomes. Based on these findings, we discuss recommendations for future research, risk communication, and energy policy.
Opinion polling data on public perceptions of hydraulic Fracturing
Numerous national and state-level public opinion polls have focused on public perception of unconventional oil/gas development using hydraulic fracturing. National polling data points to somewhat strong public support for hydraulic fracturing, but with a sizable minority unsure or lacking familiarity with the issue. For example, a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2012) poll found that only 26% of Americans had heard a lot about the issue, 37% had heard a little, and 37% had heard nothing at all. Among those who had heard of it, 52% favored its use, and 35% were opposed. Similarly, the National Energy Opinion Poll (Vedlitz, 2012) found that only 21% of respondents reported “significant knowledge” about hydraulic fracturing, and a non-representative 2012 University of Texas Energy Poll (2013) found that just 32% of respondents were familiar with it.
Opinion polling in states with active and/or proposed unconventional oil/gas development suggests more familiarity with hydraulic fracturing than at the national level. A 2011 survey of Pennsylvania residents found that 48% followed natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale “somewhat” or “very” closely. Fortyone percent felt that it was generating more benefits than problems; 33% said the problems were exceeding the benefits; and 26% said that benefits and problems were emerging in equal proportions. For perceptions of future benefits and problems, the figures were 50% expecting more benefits than problems, 32% more problems than benefits, and 17% about equal (Rabe and Borick, 2011). Similarly, a Quinnipiac University (2012a) poll found that 64% of Ohio residents believed that the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing outweighed the environmental risks, and 85% believed it would bring jobs to the state. In New York, where the process is on hold pending environmental review, residents were more divided. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers were opposed and 43% in favor. Also, 45% believed that the economic benefits would outweigh environmental concerns; 81% felt drilling would create jobs; and 48% thought it would damage the environment (Quinnipiac University, 2012b).
Summary and Discussion
In this study, we explored factors that shape Americans’ views on hydraulic fracturing, which is becoming an increasingly large part of unconventional oil/gas development. We drew on a wide array of literature across different disciplines and focused on the role of socio-demographics, geographic location, worldviews, political ideology, media use, issue familiarity, and affective imagery. Our findings have important implications for energy policy and risk communication. Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware of and undecided about this issue. Over half of those surveyed had heard nothing at all or only a little about it, and more than half didn’t know or were undecided about whether to support or oppose it. Among the minority who has formed an opinion, respondents were nearly split between support and opposition. In one sense, these findings are not particularly surprising. Polling has frequently found the public to be uninformed about specific issues.
Our regression results indicate that, among those who have taken a position, opponents tend to be women, hold egalitarian worldviews, read newspapers more than once a week, are more familiar with hydraulic fracturing, and reference environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing. In contrast, supporters tend to be older, hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, are politically conservative, watch TV for news more than once a week, and reference economic or energy supply impacts. Our findings related to socio-demographics parallel the findings from literature on risk perception and public acceptance of emerging technologies (Besley, 2010), with the exception of education. We hypothesized that increased education would lead to less support for hydraulic fracturing but found the opposite. This result may relate to the controversial role of natural gas in our energy future – either as a bridge to renewable energy or a bridge to nowhere because of continued reliance on fossil fuels (Boudet, 2011). Perhaps those with more education are more aware of this debate and increasingly side with the bridge to renewables argument: a hypothesis that should be explored in future work.
What can these findings tell us about implications for energy policy and risk communication associated with unconventional oil/development using hydraulic fracturing? Along with energy prices and technological advancement, public attitudes will likely play a critical role in shaping the degree to which unconventional oil/gas reserves are developed – in the same way that public support/opposition shapes the potential viability of other emerging technologies. One need look no further than the differing approaches to development in states such as Pennsylvania – where natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is nearly a decade old and citizens tend to be more supportive than opposed (Theodori et al., 2012) – and New York State, where Marcellus Shale drilling is on-hold pending environmental and regulatory review and citizens are comparatively more opposed (Quinnipiac University, 2012b).
At the same time, both our own survey data, as well other public opinion and academic survey findings, suggest that the majority of Americans lack a clear understanding of hydraulic fracturing and remain unaware, if not uncertain, about its potential impacts. In our sample, many “top of mind” associations reflected respondents’ lack of familiarity with hydraulic fracturing. The proportion who mentioned specific environmental, economic, or social impacts were few but indicated a general division that characterizes many energy issues: environment (i.e. water quality) versus economy (i.e. job creation). Future work should examine what factors constrain individuals from forming an opinion on the issue. While a lack of knowledge, familiarity, time and interest likely play a role, such indecisiveness could also be related to the “information haze” that often surrounds siting conflicts because of “conflicting, contradictory, multiparty, multidirectional communications that fail to clarify the risks” (Futrell, 2003, p. 365).
Risk communication efforts can help increase awareness of these impacts. However, “risk communication” refers to a variety of strategies whose success and appropriateness depends on the underlying goals they work to achieve (Clarke et al., in press; Juanillo and Scherer, 1995). Groups in favor of, or opposed to, unconventional oil/gas development and hydraulic fracturing may focus on “informing and educating stakeholders” to “change the misperceptions…associated with energy development” (Haut et al., 2010, p. 747). However, a more engagement-based approach stresses outcomes aside from acceptance or rejection, including building knowledge and trust among stakeholders. Haut et al. (2010, pp. 746-747) argued for “dialog among members of the general public, community leaders, representatives of oil and gas associations, regulatory agency personnel, non-governmental organization representatives, and other interested individuals [about] potentially positive aspects and negative consequences of energy development” (see also Scherer et al., 1999). Yet, these approaches – while important – often depend on people’s willingness to engage with information that challenges strongly held views on an issue (Clarke et al., in press). Moreover, many of the factors shown to drive support/opposition to emerging technologies, including energy development, reflect fundamental predispositions – such as worldviews and political ideology – that are not necessary amenable to informational or persuasive messages.
One promising area for future risk communication research is expanding people’s thinking of hydraulic fracturing beyond the process of extracting oil and gas to a broader awareness of the diverse social, health, economic, and environmental impacts associated with the various stages of unconventional oil/gas development over time. For example, research on public perception of such development (Anderson and Theodori, 2009; Jacquet, 2012) and associated media coverage (Evensen et al., in preparation) suggests that environmental and economic impacts loom large in people’s minds. While such impacts certainly deserve focus, there is comparatively less attention to social impacts: physical and psychological changes communities face throughout the various stages of development-related boom and bust, as resource production increases, decreases, and eventually ceases (Jacquet, 2009). Such issues include strains on infrastructure, changes to residents’ sense of community, and changes to interpersonal relationships as people riding the wave of energy development enter the picture (Krannich, 2012).
Community residents and local/state/federal officials can only prepare for the impacts of energy development that are salient in their thinking. Thus, we see an opportunity for a broader discourse on these impacts. The news media can play a potentially important role through television specials/documentaries and in-depth newspaper coverage of energy “boomtowns” in Pennsylvania (Marcellus Shale), Texas (Barnett Shale), and North Dakota (Bakken Shale) (see, for example, Brown, 2013; Dobb, 2013). Furthermore, the role of media use – both news and entertainment – in shaping hydraulic fracturing support and opposition demands additional inquiry. For example, what content attributes might account for television use as a positive predictor of hydraulic fracturing support and newspaper use as a negative predictor? What is the role of films like Gasland and Promised Land in shaping perceptions of the industry? All of these areas add up to a complex portrait of the nation’s perceptions of, and attitudes towards, unconventional oil/gas development using hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the nation’s energy future; therefore, it is high time to pursue a wide-ranging
Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom has brought thousands of new gas wells, a number of transient workers and a host of social problems. Food & Water Watch found that traffic accidents, civic disturbances and public health problems in rural Pennsylvania counties have increased since the shale rush began in 2005, diminishing the quality of life for residents of once-bucolic communities.
Economic downturns like the Great Recession are often associated with negative outcomes, but these social and public health costs increased more in rural counties with the new shale gas wells than in rural counties without shale gas drilling. These negative social impacts were especially pronounced in the counties with the highest density of shale gas wells.
The oil and gas industry has surged over the past decade by employing new techniques and technologies that combine horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) to extract gas from shale and other underground rock formations. Fracking injects large quantities of water, sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to release gas tightly held in rock layers. Fracking has expanded rapidly in areas across the country, but Pennsylvania has been at the epicenter of the nation’s fracking boom, with nearly 5,000 shale gas wells drilled between 2005 and 2011.
The fracking boom has brought heavy trucks crowding rural roads and out-of-state workers flooding small towns, often overwhelming local housing, police and public health capacities. The influx of transient workers with disposable income and little to do in their off hours is a recipe for trouble in small-town America, where alcohol-related crimes, traffic accidents, emergency room visits and sexually transmitted infection have all been on the rise.
Much of the national discussion about fracking has focused on the obvious environmental risks, while the social costs of fracking have been largely ignored. This study is the first detailed, long-term analysis of the social costs of fracking borne by rural Pennsylvania communities.
What’s it like living in a small town that’s gone from rust belt farmland to fracking boomtown? First, residents often say, there’s the traffic. Communities have been unexpectedly flooded with heavy tractor trailers that locals say turn 10 minute commutes into hour-long ordeals, choke back roads and decimate pavement so badly that in some areas, drilling companies are barred from entering until they agree to pay for road repairs. “The traffic here is horrendous,” Towanda, PA resident Joe Benjamin told NPR.
Others often describe the impacts on the social fabric – a “wild west” atmosphere that brings with it increased crime and public health problems. But these reports have been largely anecdotal, with little to quantify how big these impacts are or how much of it is due to fracking. Until now.
A new report by Food and Water Watch examines the social impacts of fracking, comparing traffic, crime and sexually transmitted infections in rural Pennsylvania counties. Using a decade worth of county-level data, they compare the differences between counties with substantial fracking and without, and how these counties have changed over time, from before the boom until after it set in.
“Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom has brought thousands of new gas wells, a number of transient workers and a host of social problems,” the report says. “This study is the first detailed, long-term analysis of the social costs of fracking borne by rural Pennsylvania communities.” FWW documented sharp differences in traffic accident rates, petty crimes, and sexually transmitted infections. According to the report:
- Fracking is associated with more heavy-truck crashes: Heavy-truck crashes rose 7.2 percent in heavily fracked rural Pennsylvania counties (with at least one well for every 15 square miles) but fell 12.4 in unfracked rural counties after fracking began in 2005.
- Fracking is associated with more social disorder arrests: Disorderly conduct arrests increased by 17.1 percent in heavily fracked rural counties, compared to 12.7 percent in unfracked rural counties.
- Fracking is associated with more cases of sexually transmitted infections: After fracking, the average increase in chlamydia and gonorrhea cases was 62 percent greater in heavily fracked rural counties than in unfracked rural counties.”
Food and Water Watch researchers reviewed 10 years of annual, county-level data for heavy-truck accidents, disorderly conduct arrests and cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia, dividing the data into two periods: before fracking (ie 2000 to 2005) and after the boom set in (ie 2005 to 2010). For arrests and for STIs, the report primarily focused on the number of arrests or cases, but the researchers added that controlling for population differences “yields similar results.”
“Economic downturns like the Great Recession are often associated with negative outcomes, but these social and public health costs increased more in rural counties with the new shale gas wells than in rural counties without shale gas drilling,” the Food and Water Watch report concludes. “These negative social impacts were especially pronounced in the counties with the highest density of shale gas wells.”
The report focuses on Pennsylvania’s 35 rural counties, saying this helped “to avoid background noise associated with other industries and urban populations,” and compares the 12 counties where no fracking occurred to the 23 counties with fracking.
FWW also identify eight counties that had at least one well for every 15 square miles, which they label “heavily-fracked” counties. Although counties with metropolitan areas were excluded, this still left a large sample size. Roughly 80 percent of the roughly 5,000 new shale gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2011 were located in counties considered “rural,” using U.S. Census definitions, the researchers noted.
The data generally corroborates the picture painted by media profiles of life in shale boomtowns. Transient workers, drawn by the promise of jobs that can pay $45 an hour or more, have flooded rural communities in places like Pennsylvania, Texas, and North Dakota.
In Pennsylvania, one in ten rural residents lived in poverty in 2010, so the economic benefits from oil and gas lease money and new drilling jobs can be quite visible. But so too can the social costs.
“The most-fracked Pennsylvania communities have experienced steep upticks in drunken driving, traffic violations and bar fights,” Food and Water Watch concluded. “In Bradford County (one well per square mile), increased traffic has delayed the response times of emergency vehicles.”
These problems carry their own economic costs. The researchers calculated the financial burden imposed on rural counties by traffic accidents alone, estimating that if the heavy truck accident rate in fracked counties had matched those untouched by the boom, $28 million would have been saved.
“Proponents tout fracking as a panacea for energy independence and job creation, but the social costs identified in this study have real economic impacts on rural communities as well,” the report says. “Traffic accidents and public disorder arrests associated with fracking cost counties and municipalities with already-stretched finances.”
Oil Boomtowns See Rise In Drunken Driving And Bar Fights, Threatening To Overwhelm Law Enforcement By MARC LEVY 10/26/11
In a modern-day echo of the raucous Old West, small towns enjoying a boom in oil and gas drilling are seeing a sharp increase in drunken driving, bar fights and other hell-raising, blamed largely on an influx of young men who find themselves with lots of money in their pockets and nothing to do after they get off work.
Authorities in Pennsylvania and other states are quick to point out that the vast majority of workers streaming in are law-abiding. But they also say the drilling industry has brought with it a hard-working, hard-drinking, rough-and-tumble element that, in some places, threatens to overwhelm law enforcement. …
In Bradford County, Pennsylvania’s most heavily drilled county in the 3-year-old rush to tap the Marcellus Shale, the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir, the stream of men from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere has been accompanied by increases in arrests, traffic violations, protection-from-abuse orders and warrants issued for people who don’t show up in court, law enforcement officials said.
In the heart of western North Dakota’s oil patch, driving under the influence and assaults have spiked after thousands of workers descended on the area and settled in apartments and trailer villages known as “man camps.” Southwestern Wyoming’s booming gas fields also have seen a rise in rowdy behavior. …
The boom in drilling has been made possible by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that cracks open rock layers to free natural gas. Large numbers of workers are needed to operate drilling equipment, drive trucks, handle chemicals, lay pipeline and perform other tasks. The hours are long. Some employees put in two weeks on, two weeks off. But entry-level laborers or truck drivers can make $40,000 or more, while workers on the drilling rigs can easily pull down twice that. Their employers often pick up the tab for hotels, meals and practically everything else.
In Sweetwater County, Wyo., where natural gas exploration boomed about a decade ago, the population increased from 37,600 in 2000 to 43,800 in 2010, and arrests for drunkenness, drugs and DUI more than doubled from 603 in 2000 to a peak of 1,535 in 2008, according to state figures. Since then, the numbers have eased to 1,128 in 2010, a decline that sheriff’s spokesman Detective Dick Blust Jr. credited to the sluggish national economy.
In Pennsylvania’s Bradford County, DUI arrests by state troopers are on track to rise 40 percent this year after climbing 60 percent last year, District Attorney Dan Barrett said. The number of sentences handed out for criminal offenses was up 35 percent in 2010, he said. Sheriff Clinton Walters said his officers are handling about a 25 percent increase from last year in everything from warrants for people who fail to appear in court to protection-from-abuse orders. The flood of arrests is such that his office’s van is no longer big enough to transport all the inmates at once from jail to court, Walters said.
Stories abound about friction between locals and out-of-towners, whether road rage incidents or fights over women. Renee Daly, 27, of Montrose, Pa., said she knows of at least three marriages that ended when local women abandoned their husbands for gas-field workers. It’s “because of these Southern gentlemen, with their Southern accents, and the girls move in with these guys to take care of them,” she said. “You get to spend their money, and they’re gone two weeks at a time.”
Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned “My Indian name is crawling drunk,” Jeanette Pratt, a title searcher from Monroe, La., who travels the country for the gas industry and was on assignment recently in Montrose, said the difference is that the out-of-town rig workers “have a lot more money to party with” than the locals.
In the North Dakota boomtown of Williston, some bars have become rough, and the number of domestic-disturbance calls and arrests for such crimes as DUI, assault and theft in just the first half of 2011 was twice the total for all of 2010, said Busching, the sheriff. Busching and Williston police are scrambling to hire but say they can’t pay enough for their new officers to afford the high rents, and many would-be local applicants have opted for a higher paycheck in the drilling industry.
Doctors are treating more patients for chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, in some of the biggest oil-producing counties in western North Dakota – 237 cases in 2010 compared with 145 in 2008 – although the state’s disease-control chief, Kirby Kruger, said that it is difficult to call three years of data a real trend. There are also rumors of prostitution.
Police departments in the area have reported unusual activity in recent months: early morning traffic stops with “very young, attractive girls in BMWs” from the Houston area, at least a five-hour drive from Dilley, Garza said.
For those who have spent their entire lives in the previously quiet farm towns that dot the northwestern corner of North Dakota, the discovery of oil in the Bakken formation has been anything but fortuitous. The thousands of people from around the country flocking to these boomtowns has led to a housing shortage and an increase in traffic, crime and frustration among the locals who feel like their small, close-knit towns are now gone forever.
“At first, we were excited about the prospect of bringing in new people and money … but it slammed us so hard, in such a little time that a lot of locals now are kind of resentful,” said Deone Lawlar, a 57-year-old native of Watford City, which is located in the middle of the oil play. “Now we want our town back.” The land Lawlar’s home is built on has belonged to her family for generations. Last year, the dirt trail that led to her house was extended past her home by an oil exploration company to build two oil rigs, a pipeline company and housing facilities for oil workers. Now, the once-solitary road plays host to semi trucks at all hours of the day.
Housing shortage sends prices soaring: If Lawlar does decide to move, there will undoubtedly be someone ready to grab up her land. A housing shortage has sent rents soaring to levels typically seen in big cities like Manhattan and San Francisco. One-bedroom apartments can run around $1,500 a month, while two- to three-bedroom apartments are often around $3,000. Even locals who have been renting their homes for years are getting surprise rent increases from landlords eager to cash in. …
Dangerous roads ahead: Along with oil companies and the workers who have flocked to work for them, have come dozens of semi trucks that are being used haul crude, water, sand and other supplies from the various well sites and rigs. Roads are getting torn apart as a result, leading to more accidents. According to the Williston Police Department, the number of accidents it investigated jumped 30% last year to 974, and traffic misdemeanors have also increased 30% year-over-year, from 324 in 2009 to 421 in 2010. But it isn’t just the bad roads that have residents concerned. Crime of all types — theft, violence, abduction, sex crimes, domestic abuse — has tripled, with 16,495 reports of criminal activities in Williston last year.
David Peterson, a detective at the Williston Police Department, said that if the town’s infrastructure, including the police department’s staffing, isn’t able to catch up with the surging population, he would like to see an end to the wave of people coming into his town. “A lot of people in other parts of the country are saying, ‘I’d do anything for a job’, and here I’m telling you I’d like to see this go?” he said. “It’s because of the problems it’s created with everything — with law enforcement, with our streets, with our restaurants, with our traffic, with our housing.”
Not the ‘middle of nowhere’ anymore: For many locals, these concerns — along with worries about the long-term environmental impact the oil play is having on their land — outweigh the economic boom that has been spurred by the newly-discovered oil of the Bakken formation. “While the majority of us appreciate the additional revenue the energy industry brings to our community, the problem for a lot of us is that it’s not just our community anymore,” said David Rolfson, who has farmed in Watford City all his life. “We liked it better when it was ‘the middle of nowhere’.”
Counties and municipalities across Pennsylvania where natural gas drilling is taking place — particularly in the Northern Tier region — are also struggling to meet a number of additional challenges associated with the industry’s increased presence and rapid growth, according to state officials. PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski today said that in the wake of the drilling, there have been increases in truck traffic, traffic violations, crime, demand for social services, and the number of miles of roads that are in need of repairs.
According to Biehler, hundreds of miles of secondary roads in Pennsylvania’s northern tier have been damaged or even rendered impassable because of heavy truck traffic associated with drilling activities. While drilling companies have committed to repairing roads they use, Biehler said, their efforts have not kept pace with the damage in a number of cases. “The high volume of heavy truck traffic carrying water, equipment and chemicals to drilling sites has caused extensive damage to secondary roads and even some primary roads,” Biehler said, noting that many secondary roads in the northern tier region lack the base foundation to accommodate heavy drilling equipment.
“In a few cases, such as in Bradford and Tioga counties, we’ve had to close roads and revoke a drilling company’s permit to use those roads because repairs were not made in a timely manner. The condition of some of these roads has made travel a safety concern.” PennDOT has ordered drilling companies to post bonds for 1,711 miles of roads and that number is expected to double this year. Drilling companies have posted $16.1 million in security for bonded roads.
State Police Commissioner Pawlowski attributed much of the road damage to overweight trucks serving the gas industry. He cited a Feb. 9 enforcement effort in Susquehanna County that found 56 percent of 194 trucks checked were found to be over the weight limit. Fifty percent of those trucks were also cited for safety violations. “These trucks are large and heavy, so for the sake of those drivers sharing the road with them, it’s important that they follow the law,” said Pawlowski. “We’re monitoring these roads closely and targeting areas where we know drilling-related traffic is heaviest, but it’s still important that anyone witnessing unsafe behavior on the part drilling companies or their drivers report it to the state police.”
Pawlowski said that overweight trucks are just one aspect of the additional challenges his troopers in the northern region are facing because of the increased drilling activity and influx of workers. Pawlowski reported more arrests and incidents involving drugs, assaults and illegal weapons.
“More and more, it seems the police reports coming out of the northern tier include arrests because of drug use and trafficking, fights involving rig workers, DUIs, and weapons being brought into the state and not registered properly,” said the commissioner. “We’ve even encountered situations where drilling company employees who have been convicted of a sexual assault in another state come here to work and do not register with our Megan’s Law website. Each of these issues is unacceptable and places an even greater burden on our law enforcement and local social programs meant to help those in need.”
Pawlowski and Biehler both said the state and local governments need additional resources to address the problems that have accompanied the arrival of drilling companies to Pennsylvania. Governor Edward G. Rendell has proposed a severance tax to ensure the industry pays its fair share and helps support the programs and services the commonwealth, counties and municipalities must provide to accommodate their presence.
In Bradford County, Pa., drunken driving arrests are up 60 percent. Criminal sentencing was up 35 percent in 2010. And in Towanda, the county seat, DUI arrests were up 50 percent. Why? The frenzy of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, which has boosted the economies of some of Pennsylvania’s smallest and most rural counties in recent years, has also led to rapid population swells and — by extension — more crime. “Economic boom equals crime boom,” said Daniel J. Barrett, the district attorney of Bradford County, which borders southern New York.
According to Mr. Barrett, the big increases in DUI arrests and criminal sentencing in his county are at least partially attributable to the gas industry workers who have come to the county in droves over the past few years. And both local law enforcement and prosecution, including his office, are starting to feel the strain, he said. “The issue is: We’ve got an expanded burden on the criminal justice system,” he said, adding that while the private housing market, for example, responded to the population uptick by expanding hotels and increasing the number of rental properties, there has been no comparable way for law enforcement and prosecution to adapt to its increased caseload. …
While the quantity of cases is a problem in and of itself, the nature of many of those cases has made prosecution more challenging. For example, because drilling work often requires a nomadic lifestyle, suspects, victims and witnesses can often be difficult to track down during investigations, Mr. Barrett said. And the increase in the county’s labor force has also led to an increase in non-English-speaking parties in criminal cases, something he admitted his office is ill-equipped to handle.
George W. Wheeler, district attorney of neighboring Tioga County, Pa., said he had also seen an uptick in crime. Mr. Wheeler said DUI cases had noticeably increased over the past year and that many offenders had been found to be associated with local gas drilling operations.
But the county has also seen gas workers implicated in arguably more serious crimes, such as a recent case in which a drunken fight had left someone dead. Mr. Wheeler said his office was also investigating sexual assault cases in which the alleged perpetrators were gas workers. “Obviously, a lot of people have come into this area [as the result of the gas boom], and the vast majority are here probably working hard to earn a living,” he said, adding that some were simply “up to no good.” …
“I’m not anti-gas,” Mr. Barrett said. “But if you bring a couple thousand people — particularly males — to an area as temporary workers, there are going to be stresses put on law enforcement in the area.” Mr. Barrett said the large drilling companies had been “very supportive” of local law enforcement and prosecution, often requiring employees to submit to drug and alcohol testing, but that the smaller subcontractors they use were often less discerning about who they hire.
Race, Poverty, and Hydraulic Fracturing in North Carolina Summary (by Emily Werder) of letter from Southern Environmental Law Center to the EPA – 2013
Researchers gathered information about the locations of leases for hydraulic fracturing in Lee County from state records. They matched the leases to US Census blocks and compared information about race to the locations and volume of hydraulic fracturing leases. A similar comparison was made between poverty and lease location for census block groups. The researchers did statistical analyses of US Census data from 2007-2011 to understand whether or not communities of color and low-wealth communities are more likely to have leases for hydraulic fracturing.
There are currently 77 census blocks in Lee County with leases for hydraulic fracturing, 14% of which are in communities with a high proportion of people of color. In this study, communities of color are more likely to have leases for hydraulic fracturing than other communities.
- Communities with more than 50% people of color were 4.2 times as likely to have hydraulic fracturing leases as those with <10% people of color.
- Communities with more than 50% people of color had an average of 50% of land leased for hydraulic fracturing, compared to 23% of the land leased for hydraulic fracturing in communities with <10% people of color.
- Increasing the percent of people of color in a community by 10% leads to an 11% increase in the risk of having a hydraulic fracturing lease in that community.
- More than half (57%) of the census blocks with the highest proportion of land leased (greater than 75% land leased) are communities of color.
What the Results Mean
The findings from this study are evidence that hydraulic fracturing in Lee County, North Carolina will disproportionately affect communities of color, and may be concentrated in communities with more poverty. These results indicate that these communities will experience environmental injustice related to hydraulic fracturing.
Communities with hydraulic fracturing operations are exposed to hazardous air pollutants, toxic water contaminants, constant noise and light, social disruption, and the economic fluctuations of boom-and-bust cycles. Hydraulic fracturing may deplete property values and negatively impact agricultural production.
Preferentially selecting communities of color and low wealth for hydraulic fracturing operations puts an undue burden of exposure and adverse health outcomes on vulnerable groups, prioritizing corporate profit over the health of North Carolinians. Those who benefit from hydraulic fracturing are very far removed from the communities of color and low wealth that will be most negatively impacted by this industry.
Socioeconomic Change and Human Stress Associated with Shale Gas Extraction By Jill Kriesky, PhD – June 18, 2012
The only statement that we can make with certainty to date about the effects of hydraulic fracturing on the public’s health is that there are multiple pathways for potential harm, and that none have been researched enough to definitively link the process to specific health impacts. Researchers have begun to study the air and water pathways to identify potentially dangerous chemicals released in areas surrounding drilling sites (e.g.,Myers 2012; McKensie et al. 2012). When their findings are supplemented with baseline data on the health of nearby residents and on the doses of chemicals ingested from these sources, we can begin to define immediate and long-term effects on humans living and working adjacent to wells.
Another pathway through which potentially greater numbers of residents may suffer adverse health effects is the socio-economic change experienced in communities where drilling occurs. An established “boomtown” literature analyzing the unexpected, fast economic development in areas where energy extraction occurs warns that these conditions contribute to psychosocial stress. While “boomtowns” enjoy the job and business activity growth touted as contributors to better well-being, they also face demographic changes, uncertainty, inadequate housing and infrastructure, and substandard social services (Davenport and Davenport 1980). Some research specifically ties increased mental health case loads, crime, divorce, suicide, and alcoholism to this rapid community development (Kohrs 1974). Overall the literature identifies both positive and negative economic impacts on local residents, but particularly significant negative social impacts. (Markussen 1978; Freudenburg 1984; Seyfrit 1988; Perdue, et al 1999). Linking this literature to recent studies on the relationship between social environmental factors and health impacts (Lantz 2010; Diez Roux 2001; Clougherty and Kubzansky 2009) suggests that the social impacts of shale gas drilling may have a considerable influence on community heath.
Spending a few hours in towns in the active Marcellus Shale drilling region of Pennsylvania provides even a casual observer with sights and sounds of undeniable community change. Thousands of diesel-powered trucks carrying water, chemicals, and equipment to and from drilling sites roar through towns and rural landscapes, creating traffic jams and degrading already poor-quality road surfaces. Local hotel, temporary industry-built “man camps,” and restaurants are filled with an influx of drilling teams from Texas, Oklahoma, and other points south and west, here only long enough to drill and frac, then move on to another site. A visitor who spends a little more time chatting with social service providers, town leaders, and long-time residents will hear about additional stressors that lie below the surface. Homelessness is on the rise among those who have long struggled near the economic margins, and are now forced from inexpensive housing by landlords seeking higher rents from gas workers. Tensions between the “mailbox millionaires” for whom leasing of mineral rights have created new economic opportunities and power, residents without the interest in or resources to lease, and short-term workers behaving recklessly in their time off are often palpable and unwelcome. Locals who once relished their lives in the sparsely-developed, quiet rural areas struggle with the industrial landscape that surrounds them and is beyond their control.
Social scientists have begun to document these sources of community stress. In key informant and survey research they have recorded complaints about traffic, roads and other infrastructure strained by the drilling industry, and concerns about the influx of short-term workers, their impacts on housing and lack of attachment to community. Through health impact assessments and analysis of governmental data, they have verified increases in crime in multiple shale gas drilling regions. Other studies confirm dissatisfaction related to newly-created income inequality in affected communities, emergence of industrial operations in rural landscapes, and distrust of gas industry representatives who promise positive outcomes while failing to warn of negative impacts (Alter, et al. 2010; Brasier et al. 2011; Blevins et al. 2005; Anderson and Theodori 2009; Theodori 2009; Jacquet 2005 and 2009; Witter et al. 2008).
Research indicates that community members’ attitudes become more strongly negative during the most intense drilling phase of natural gas development (Brasier et al. 2011, Anderson and Theodori 2009). This, in turn suggests that stress and related illnesses might likewise occur at this stage, and so efforts to monitor the social impacts on health should begin early in the shale gas development process. So far, researchers have not systematically studied the link between social impacts and health conditions. A promising first step in this direction has been taken by Colorado-based researchers. Witter (2012) reported that Colorado residents living within 1000 feet of drilling sites were subjected to noise levels (65-69 dB) that were associated with sleep disturbance, fatigue, cognition and mood changes and stress that has been linked to poor school performance. Other research in planning or initial phases could also incorporate links to social impacts. For example, medical research institutions in Pennsylvania are considering how to use thousands of electronic medical records and geographic shale drilling data to examine the health impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling. They should be encouraged to investigate social change in the patients’ community and potential links to stress-related illnesses. Likewise the longitudinal study of social impacts in four Pennsylvania shale drilling counties initiated by Pennsylvania State University social science researchers could add a health assessment of subjects to explore the nexus between drilling-induced community change, stress, and health impacts.
None of these promising or possible research agendas should be seen as a substitute for a thorough, well-designed study incorporating both survey research identifying community change and self-reported stress and medical data registering increased stress and its health impacts. This is relatively uncharted territory in public health research. But it may well be the crux of the matter for public health in communities surrounded by shale gas drilling, so it must be addressed carefully and soon.
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Fort McMurray was a sleepy town on the Canadian frontier until oil transformed it into a boomtown with tons of opportunities – and concerns. On a hot summer day, there’s a distinct smell around the remote, northern town of Fort McMurray, Canada. You might think it’s the oil being processed at nearby plants. But most residents will tell you it’s the smell of money.
Most Americans probably don’t know that one third of the world’s known oil deposits are buried in the dirt of Canada’s Alberta province. The Oil Sands of Canada – as they are known – contain the largest known oil deposit in the world, significantly larger than that of Saudi Arabia. One and a half million barrels of oil are extracted from the land every day, most of it sent directly to the U.S.
Alberta supplies about ten percent of America’s imported oil – some of it from conventional wells, but a growing amount from Oil Sands. And the fast-growing industry has turned the town of Ft. McMurray into a bonafide “boomtown” with folks here juggling new riches – and new problems. Money pouring into the town allows residents to enjoy the highest per capita income in Canada. Even low-end service jobs, like flipping burgers, waiting tables, or pumping gas, pay upward of $15 an hour.
The nearest cities, Edmonton and Calgary, are both facing labor shortages as unskilled workers migrate north for better pay. Some even refer to the town as “Fort McMoney.” “You can say all the bad things you want about this town,” challenged Jesse Brether, a Ft. McMurray Oil Sands worker. “You know what? For fifty dollars an hour, I’ll deal with it… I’m making over a hundred thousand dollars a year, and I’m twenty-two!”
Despite the opportunities found here, there are plenty of bad things to say about the town (including the fact that my crew and I made for some great eating for the angriest mosquitoes and black flies we’ve ever encountered). Traffic, for one, is disastrous. The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the need for workers, so this town of less than 100,000 residents has traffic jams that would shame a city ten times the size.
Housing development hasn’t kept up, either. The median cost of a single family home, at just a little under $700,000, is the highest in Canada, and about the same as San Francisco. Just buying a little plot of land and dropping a mobile home on it will set you back almost half a million bucks, and paying $2,000 to rent a one-bedroom apartment is considered a deal. Besides the infrastructure problems there are growing environmental concerns that have come about as the Oil Sands industry grows.
Native Canadian groups who once thrived on the area’s abundant natural resources are worried. While jobs have been created, and contracts have been awarded to native small businesses, the gains are overshadowed by reports of deformed fish and discolored meat in the wildlife. A local health board study found unusually high rates of cancers and other illness, although both the Alberta government and the oil companies dispute those claims.
But it’s hard to dispute the area’s vast deforestation as the Oil Sands have become the largest construction zone on earth. The huge swath of boreal – or coniferous – forest that has been removed is clearly visible from space, and locals worry about the long term ecological effect of the clear-cutting. “I call the Boreal forest the lungs of the earth,” says former Chief Robert Cree. “If the Boreal Forest is just depleted to a point, then what’s going to happen?”
Turning Oil Sand into usable energy is an arduous, resource intensive process. Oil sand is mined in giant pits, then the oil has to be separated from the sand. To do this, Oil Sand is washed with warm water, a process that uses large quantities of natural gas. Once the sand and the oil are separated, the oil must be further processed into a lighter form of crude that can be easily refined into gasoline, diesel and heating oil.
Critics claim that the extra step of “upgrading” the viscous, molasses-like oil into usable crude emits three times as much carbon dioxide as drilling for and transporting conventional oil. While the industry calls that number is inflated, Shell, one of the major operators in the area, puts that figure at around 200%. And then there’s the water. Taken from a local river and used to wash the oil from the sands the water is left to evaporate in huge, lined ponds. The ponds are required by law to prevent contaminated water from leaking back into the water table.
As worldwide demand for oil grows and the search for new sources picks up speed, it’s unclear whether concerns about environmental damage will overcome the desire on the part of American policy makers for more oil from friendly, stable countries like Canada. Canada has long produced more oil than it needs, and most of the excess is piped directly into the U.S. There’s no pipeline yet to the West Coast of Canada, but there is a proposal to build one, and it’s backed by the Chinese. If that pipeline gets built, oil could just as easily be shipped to China, leaving less for the US.
Assuming oil prices stay above $50 a barrel, Canada can optimistically increase its daily Oil Sands output from 1.5 million barrels per day today, to four or even five million barrels per day within a decade. Either way, Canada’s influence in the global energy market is set to grow as fast as the once sleepy little boom town of Ft. McMurray.