Quantcast

Report Exposes Social Costs of Fracking on Rural America

Health + Wellness

DeSmogBlog

By Sharon Kelly

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 (FWW) 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 percent 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.

FWW 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 sexually transmitted infections, 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 FWW 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,” FWW 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."

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less
A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

Read More Show Less