The Shale Tipping Point: The Relationship of Shale Drilling to Crime, Traffic Fatalities, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, and Rents in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio

December 14, 2014. A report completed by a research team of the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative found a clear relationship between the density of shale well drilling activity and increases in crime, rents, traffic fatalities and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These key “quality of life” issues had been identified in prior work by the Collaborative and in the work of others as having a potential relationship with intensive extractive industry “booms.”

To examine this relationship, the Pennsylvania research team divided the counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia into three levels of drilling activity—low, moderate and high—to better understand the relationship between the density of drilling and the severity of impacts, and used non-drilling rural and non-drilling urban counties as control groups. The resulting research and analysis produced the following findings:

  • Employment: Drilling has had only a limited impact on employment in the three states, particularly when measured as a share of total employment. The bulk of the employment gains were in the six high-drilling counties and those were modest. Total growth in mining and natural resources employment in the three states from 2005 to 2012 was just over 25,000 jobs, or 22/100ths of one percent of all employment.
  • Population: No evidence was found of significant population growth in any of the states resulting from drilling.
  • Crime: Violent crime increased 17.7% and property crime 10.8% in the six high-drilling counties, compared to no statistically significant increases in medium- and low-drilling counties.
  • Traffic fatalities: Between 2005 and 2012, traffic fatalities involving trucks in the six high-drilling counties increased by a statistically significant 27.8%, compared to 2000 to 2005.
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): Since 2005, rates of chlamydia infection across all the drilling counties increased 24% to 27%, compared to non-drilling counties.
  • Housing: Rents in the regions with high-drilling counties all increased from 2005 to 2012 with the biggest increases in median (10.2%) and high-end (12.3%) rents.

In human terms, in the high-drilling countries, about 130 more violent crimes, 819 more property crimes and 160 more cases of chlamydia occurred each year by 2012 compared to 2005 (i.e., before the increase in drilling). Residents, most of whom gain no benefit from the gas industry, also bear the risk of higher fatalities from traffic accidents involving trucks and of higher rents. Local governments must pay for additional first responders and staff to address rising crime, traffic fatalities, and STDs.

This analysis offers clear evidence that a high concentration of drilling over a relatively short period of time is a recipe for significant, multiple impacts. Trends that are apparent in Pennsylvania are absent in West Virginia, perhaps as a result of slower and less concentrated drilling development, and are hinted at in Ohio, where drilling accelerated in 2012, the final year of our analysis. Local and state governments may be able to avoid or mitigate the most severe impacts by better controlling the pace of drilling, perhaps with county rig limits, or longer and more thorough permit and water review processes. States should enact severance taxes to help ensure that the industry, not taxpayers, foots the bill for impacts.

The analysis looked at crime, traffic fatalities, sexually transmitted diseases and housing, and found evidence of impacts in each area in high-drilling communities. The research relied, of necessity, on county-level (and, in the case of housing, multi-county) data, although the impact of drilling is often localized within counties. As a result of this mismatch between the geography of drilling’s impact and the data sources, the impacts on crime, traffic fatalities, STDs, and rents are likely to be underestimated. New case studies of the impact of shale gas drilling in Carroll County, Ohio; Greene and Tioga counties in Pennsylvania; and Wetzel County, West Virginia, provide numerous cautionary tales for New York as it considered whether or not to allow Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs.

This report built upon the prior research of Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative which included detailed case studies of four counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and an extensive report Exaggerating the Employment Impacts of Shale Drilling: How and Why that documented the ways in which the oil and gas industries and their supporters have exaggerated the employment impacts (both actual and potential) of shale drilling. It also exposed the motivations for these exaggeration strategies: to preclude, or at least to minimize, taxation, regulation, and even careful examination of shale drilling.

The Fiscal Policy Institute is a member of the collaborative along with Policy Matters Ohio, the Keystone Research Center, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (in Virginia), and the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy.

PDF of the Full Report

PDF of an Abridged Version

PDF of the Technical Appendix

PDF of the Press Release