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Ohio Utica Shale

New study says drilling has impact on Pennsylvania communities

By Bob Downing Published: September 24, 2013

From Food & Water Watch received today:

Washington, D.C.—New analysis released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch shows that oil and gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is associated with increased incidence of traffic accidents, disorderly conduct arrests and sexually transmitted infections in rural communities. The Social Costs of Fracking: A Pennsylvania Case Study found that once fracking began in 2005, these social indicators worsened in counties with fracked natural gas wells, and the trends were especially pronounced in the rural counties with the highest density of fracked wells. 

“We need clean energy jobs that are good for communities, workers and the environment, but fracking isn’t going to get us there,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The social costs of fracking aren’t just costing the communities where fracking is occurring. They’re affecting the laborers as well. Oil and gas industry workers and America deserve better.” 

The new analysis adds context to the fracking debate, and is the first longitudinal examination of the social costs of fracking in rural communities. Food & Water Watch compared a decade of annual, county-level data for key quality of life indicators including traffic accidents (heavy-truck accidents), civic disturbances (disorderly conduct arrests) and public health (total number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases) in Pennsylvania’s rural unfracked counties, all fracked counties and the eight most fracked counties with at least one well per 15 square miles. Findings included:

  • Once fracking began in 2005, heavy truck crashes increased 7.2 percent in the rural Pennsylvania counties with the heaviest density of fracking compared to a 12.4 percent decline in unfracked rural counties;
  • Disorderly conduct arrests increased 17.1 percent in the most heavily fracked rural counties, one-third more than the 12.7 percent increase in unfracked counties;  
  • The number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases increased 32.4 percent in heavily fracked counties, 62 percent more than the 20.1 percent increase in unfracked rural counties.  

According to Food & Water Watch, these fracking-associated social costs further demonstrate the shortsighted nature of U.S. investment in expanded fossil fuel extraction. The results also are consistent with academic literature demonstrating the negative community impacts from oil and coal boomtowns that sprang up in the wake of the energy crisis in the 1970s. It also supports extensive anecdotal evidence from community leaders and media reports that the rise in fracking has also delivered tangible harms to rural quality of life.

Although fracking has expanded rapidly across the United States in the past decade, Pennsylvania has been at the epicenter of this trend, and of the nearly 5,000 new shale gas wells drilled there between 2005 and 2011, four out of five were located in rural counties. Although much of the debate around fracking has focused on obvious environmental risks such as air pollution and water contamination, policymakers have largely ignored the significant social effects of fracking on rural populations.

The social costs identified in this study have real economic impacts on rural communities. Traffic accidents and public disorder arrests associated with fracking cost counties and municipalities with already stretched finances. Responding to fracking-related emergencies also diverts first responders from other emergencies.

The report recommends enacting aggressive policies to reduce energy demand, including investing in public transportation, community planning and the deployment of truly efficient energy solutions; establishing ambitious renewable energy programs for deploying and incentivizing technologies such as wind and solar power; and implementing a national ban on fracking.

“The considerable social costs of fracking, and the associated environmental and economic ones, add to the mounting evidence that fracked gas is not a viable, sustainable, long-term energy solution,” said Hauter. “Communities must take these factors into consideration when considering approving new projects.”

Download The Social Costs of Fracking: A Pennsylvania Case Study here:



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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.