Numbers Don’t Lie: New Food & Water Watch Report Reveals the Social Costs of Fracking
Over the past several years, the oil and gas industry has muscled its way into rural America under the promise of providing jobs, boosting the economy and moving the nation into energy independence. The industry has pressured families and farmers into offering up their land in exchange for financial compensation. But, as we now know, this is a troubling trade. The oil and gas industry’s empty promises have left many communities in the dust with a slew of environmental, health and social consequences to deal with as a result of shale gas development. And, these consequences are sometimes irreparable. Attend a town hall meeting in rural Pennsylvania and you will hear the cry of mothers who fear for the safety of their children, or nurses distraught by what they are seeing in the clinic. It is time our nation’s leaders recognize the full extent of the damage that oil and gas development does.
Food & Water Watch conducted an empirical study of communities located in the epicenter of the natural gas boom – the Marcellus Shale – to measure the social effects of fracking. The Social Costs of Fracking: A Pennsylvania Case Study, compares and analyzes ten years of public data from rural Pennsylvania, beginning in the year 2000 when shale gas development was non-existent, and ending in 2010 when thousands of well pads and rigs spattered the landscape.
The national fracking discourse has largely been dominated by what fracking does to air and water quality – we’ve seen drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals and we know quite well how detrimental increased methane emissions are to our climate crisis. But, what’s been missing from the discussion are the impacts the natural gas boom has on the social fabric of fracked rural communities. Contrary to what the industry claims, our researchers found that oil and gas development greatly undermines the quality of life for small rural communities and brings added costs to communities.
By analyzing a decade’s worth of state data from before and after Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom, Food & Water Watch’s research team found that shale gas development in heavily fracked Pennsylvania counties, compared with non-fracked Pennsylvania counties, is associated with increased heavy truck traffic accidents, disorderly conduct arrests and cases of sexually transmitted infections.
The report details three main “social costs” associated with the fracking boom in rural Pennsylvania:
- Heavy truck crashes increased 7 percent in heavily-fracked rural Pennsylvania counties and declined 12 percent in unfracked rural counties once fracking began in 2005.
- Disorderly conduct arrests associated with substance abuse rose a third more steeply in heavily fracked rural counties after fracking began than in unfracked rural counties.
- During the post-fracking period (2005-2010) the number of cases of sexually transmitted infections increased twice as fast in heavily fracked counties as in unfracked counties.
Past studies of energy boomtowns in the west have shown that sudden population bulges in small communities put a lot of pressure on an area’s capacity to meet the needs and challenges that come with industrialization. Social scientists have even developed theories to describe this kind of phenomenon, ultimately pointing to how, when out-of-town industry workers move in and out of an area and thus have few social ties or “stakes” within that community, social and economic disruption often ensues. It can strain local service providers and the infrastructure that was not designed for the industrial boom. As we see in the report’s results, oil and gas development in rural, once pastoral communities has compromised the quality of life of many Pennsylvanian communities and industry workers alike.
While this report is a case study of just one heavily fracked state, it is well known that shale gas development is booming in rural and non-rural communities across the United States. That is why it is so important for people everywhere to share this report with local and state decision makers.
Take action by writing a letter to your Governor asking them to read our report and consider the facts. Share your stories, express your concerns and show them your support for a ban on this dangerous practice that destroys our air, water, health and the well-being of our communities.