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Report Claims Negative Impacts of Marcellus Shale Drilling

While the population in Marcellus Shale drilling towns has not increased, crime, housing costs and other negative impacts have.

That’s according to the left-leaning Keystone Research Center and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s report "The Shale Tipping Point: The Relationship of Drilling to Crime, Truck Fatalities, STDs and Rents in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio."

Mark Price, Keystone Research Center labor economist, said they first interviewed local officials and residents and community groups to get a sense of what they were seeing about the human and social impacts of drilling.

“And that sort of case study work then informed this sort of report which is we then went and scoured what government data sources we could track down that would address some of the issues that folks brought up,” Price said.

The report compared data from before the Marcellus Shale “boom” (usually from 2005) to data from 2012.  Researchers also compared towns with a slew of wells to those with little to no wells – which they considered the control groups.

The six high-activity counties in Pennsylvania – with more than 400 wells – are Tioga, Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Washington and Greene.

Price said the researchers found “very weak evidence” for population growth in these towns.

“We actually don’t find any statistically significant impacts in population, even in the highest drilling counties,” Price said, “which was surprising to us, and as we’ve done our research also surprising to a lot of the folks that lived in those places.”

Price said this could be because the drillers might not be listing their state of residence as Pennsylvania for the census.

But the researchers did find an increase in crime.

“We observed a 17 percent increase in violent crime as a result of drilling in the highest drilling activity counties – again those would be the six in Pennsylvania,” Price said. “We did not observe a pattern in any of the other states or in the counties of Pennsylvania that did not have a significant amount of drilling.”

However, it has not been proven that the drillers were the ones committing the crimes.

Price said property crime also increased by about 11 percent in the six counties and medium-end rent increased by 10 percent while high-end rent increased 12 percent.

“It’s a case where you’ve got a lot more economic activity going on in this place, and it’s of a character that it generates this increase,” Price said. “I guess the way to look at it is like a ‘boom town,’ right? So it may or may not be related directly to drilling, but it is a result of the increased level of activity in that county.” 

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.