By now, we’ve all heard about the pitfalls of fracking: it hurts the environment, it ruins the water supply, it damages the health of local residents. Though those reasons should be enough to stop the practice, local communities continue to permit natural gas companies to drill on their land.
However, perhaps towns will take notice of some of the latest research. Food & Water Watch, a consumer rights group, studied fracking counties to determine some of the other, more social downsides to inviting gas companies into their backyards. The group concluded that “the fracking boom has transformed some rural communities into modern versions of Wild West mining towns.”
Here are some of the other fracking-related problems Food & Water Watch identified:
1. Housing Crisis
With a sudden burst of people moving to small towns to work the fracking wells, housing quickly becomes scarce. The short supply and high demand allows property owners to double or even triple the cost of rent, leaving some life-long residents unable to afford to live in town anymore.
2. More People Turn to Public Assistance
While the natural gas employees are generally compensated sufficiently, it’s a fracking community’s other residents that suffer financially. In addition to driving up the cost of housing, the new money in town spurs inflation in other areas. Consequently, poor residents in the community who used to be self-sufficient can no longer provide for themselves in their hometown and must rely on public assistance to get by.
3. Traffic Jams
Small towns that have never needed many roadways suddenly find themselves overloaded with trucks required for day-to-day fracking business. Since trucks must make thousands of trips to haul away hazardous material from each well, they wind up monopolizing the streets. As a result, residents complain of traffic congestion, citing kids unable to get to school on time and emergency vehicles unable to reach critical areas in a timely manner.
4. Truck Crashes
The increased traffic yields increased collisions. Though the national rate of traffic accidents is decreasing, some of the highest rates of vehicular accidents occur in fracking towns. This statistic is especially true for large fracking trucks trying to navigate overcrowded and narrow rural roads. Considering that these trucks carry waste material and natural gas, crashes can be particularly disastrous. Experts estimate that these accidents wind up costing fracking counties an additional $28 million annually.
5. Increased Crime and Arrests
With no real ties to the community, transient natural gas workers seem to have less respect for their temporary homes than long-time residents and cause more trouble. Once fracking started in their towns, law enforcement officers reported a 17% boost in disorderly conduct arrests.
Indeed, a lot of this misbehavior can be chalked up to alcoholism. Bored workers in these small town environments with time to kill and money to spend often turn to booze. “We definitely do drink a lot,” said one natural gas worker. Though local taverns experience a financial boom, they also see a spike in bar brawls. Moreover, as the rate of drunk driving increases, communities become less safe. Officers report a 12% jump in public intoxication arrests in fracking communities, as well.
7. Sexual Assault
Since fracking became so popular in North Dakota, the influx of male workers has made the state have one of the largest single men to women ratios in the country. In the fracking towns specifically, there are 20% more single men than available women. This radical disparity leaves the male population craving female attention and acting out in all of the wrong ways. Affected areas see spikes in sexual assault cases and women report feeling unsafe, harassed and followed while in public.
8. Sexually Transmitted Infections
Natural gas employees may leave it all behind to strike it rich in a fracking town, but one thing that they tend to inadvertently bring with them are STIs. Rural Pennsylvania hospitals found that rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea increased by over 30% after fracking came to their communities. That’s a 60% higher rate than the infection rate for non-fracked areas over the same period. It looks like the sex isn’t any safer than the drinking water.