Communities with the highest intensity of natural gas drilling have seen increased rate of crime, motor vehicle fatalities and even sexually transmitted diseases. While the influx of energy workers hasn’t significantly increased population figures, it coincided with a surge in rental prices across the Marcellus Shale region.
“Our report aims to give communities where drilling has not occurred . . . an idea of what the potential impacts will be,” said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a labor-backed policy center.
Researchers interviewed local officials and residents in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to gather anecdotes about how drilling had affected their communities, said Mark Price, an economist who co-authored the study from the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative. Next, they analyzed data starting as early as 1998 through 2012 to examine the impacts before and after shale drilling intensified. The report also compares that data with rural and urban areas without fracking, which serve as controls.
In Pennsylvania, the number of unconventional wells—the category that includes fracking sites—was in the single digits from 2002 through 2005, but rapidly increased in the last decade. By 2011, the state had reported 1,968 wells.
Despite that tremendous growth, areas with 400 or more wells haven’t seen a dramatic increases in population: A .3 percent drop in the seven years before 2005 versus a .4 percent rise in the seven years ending 2012. By comparison, rural areas without drilling saw 7 percent and 3.4 percent increases over the same periods. Urban areas saw increases of 3.7 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.
“There’s a good chance that a person working in the industry may not list the state of residence as Pennsylvania,” Price said, since the work requires individuals with specialized skills who also tend to be more transient. Construction employees, meanwhile, tend to travel several hours to work at the drilling sites.
According to the report, the influx of out-of-state workers—many of whom are young men earning higher-than-average salaries—has corresponded with increases in traffic and crime.
Bradford County, which had the highest number of wells in the state as of 2012, saw a 28 percent increase in violent crime since 2005 compared to a 33 percent decrease in the years prior. Tioga, the second largest drilling hub, saw a 123 percent increase in violent crime after a 19 percent drop in the preceding years.
Larceny theft rates, meanwhile, have increased 25 percent in counties with 400 or more wells compared to a 16 percent increase and 5 percent decrease in rural and urban areas without wells.
Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea, also spiked in areas with increased drilling activity. While total cases have remained relatively steady since 2003 in areas without drilling, incidents of the two diseases have more than doubled in areas with 400 or more wells.
Fatal accidents have decreased or remained steady across Pennsylvania since 2005, according to the report. Since 2005, however, the six Pennsylvania counties with 400 or more wells have seen increases in traffic fatalities. That roughly equated to 35 more traffic fatalities in those counties versus the statewide trend.
Median rental costs have increased 16.5 percent in Bradford, Sullivan and Tioga counties; 13.9 percent in Pike, Susquehanna and Wayne counties; and 9.4 percent in Greene and Washington counties between the 3-year-periods of 2005-07 and 2010-12. That compares with 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, for urban and rural areas without drilling.
So what does all this mean?
Price said local and state governments can use the data to enact policies, such as placing limits on the pace of drilling, to help mitigate the health and societal impacts.
“States should enact severance taxes to ensure that the industry, not taxpayers, foots the bill for these negative consequences of drilling,” he said.
Such a tax on natural gas production was a major part of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s platform during this year’s election. Most recently, incoming state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said he would consider a severance tax if the Wolf administration agreed on pension reform.
Political analysts have said such a compromise would be necessary in order to pass a budget this year.
The report, which was the result of a multi-state collaboration, found similar impacts in neighboring Ohio and West Virginia.
“With increased understanding of the many negative impacts of fracking, it may be time Ohio considers whether the costs may, in fact, end up exceeding the benefits of shale development,” said Amanda Woodrum, a researcher for Policy Matters Ohio.
By Wallace McKelvey for PennLive