Measuring the Social Cost of Fracking

Using data from public records, Food & Water Watch finds that in rural Pennsylvania’s most heavily “fracked” counties, there were increases in heavy-truck accidents, disorderly conduct and sexually transmitted diseases. These “social costs” need to be part of the policy discussion around fracking, they say.

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Food & Water Watch found that shale gas drilling was associated with higher levels of traffic accidents, arrests for civil disturbances and sexually transmitted infections in rural Pennsylvania counties. Moreover, this trend was strongest in counties with the highest density of fracking wells. These findings suggest that drilling and fracking can impose real social costs on rural communities (traffic accidents, crime and public health problems) and that the most heavily fracked counties bear the greatest social costs.

The study examined a decade of annual, county-level data for traffic accidents (heavy-truck accidents), civic disturbances (disorderly conduct arrests) and public health cases (the total number of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases) over two periods: before fracking (2000 to 2005) and after the commercialization of fracking in Pennsylvania (2005 to 2010). The study looked at Pennsylvania’s 35 rural counties and compared the 12 counties where no fracking occurred to the 23 counties with fracking. Additionally, the analysis examined the top-third most-fracked counties; these eight most heavily fracked counties had at least one well for every 15 square miles. (See Figure 2.)

For each social indicator, the analysis compared the prevalence (for example, the average annual number of heavy truck crashes) and the average year-to-year change (e.g., the average annual percent increase or decrease in the number of heavy-truck crashes) from the before-fracking period to the after-fracking period. These measurements demonstrate trends for each social indicator before and after fracking began in Pennsylvania.

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