Social Impacts of Domestic Oil and Gas Development

Since the 1970s, American and Canadian social scientists have analyzed the impacts of energy impacts on local communities. According to one group¸ “boomtown” communities enjoy short-term construction peaks followed by long economic busts. A more realistic view holds that local economies initially rise and fall, but then stabilize and grow over time. Although evidence for this “boom-bust-recovery” cycle is compelling, opponents of hydraulic fracturing often ignore it and argue that shale gas development inevitably produces long-term hardship.

But available evidence from studies conducted across the United States shows that there are social risks -- not from shale development itself, but from how it is managed by government officials, residents, companies and other participants. These impacts include increased gaps between “haves” and “have-nots” in poor rural areas as well as overburdened infrastructure, schools, police departments, social services and housing. Such issues have fueled public opposition to shale development and led to calls for moratoriums or other restrictions.

The Terra Group has completed a detailed review of social science data on shale gas development and has submitted formal comments to the National Research Council, which has drafted a set of new regulatory recommendations for the federal government. (Robert Wasserstrom, “Community and Social Risk from Shale Gas Development: A Comment on Jeffrey Jacquet’s Report to the National Research Council,” public comment submitted to the National Research Council, Washington, DC, July, 2013.) We have presented our findings at several major industry conferences and expert meetings around the country. (Susan Reider and Robert Wasserstrom, “Addressing the Social and Community Impacts of Shale Gas Development,” prepared for the SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment, Long Beach, California, 17-19 March, 2014.)

Our analysis focuses on Pennsylvania, where debate over social impact has become highly polarized and plays a prominent role in anti-fracking advocacy. Our goal is to help public officials, decision-makers, journalists, community members and other stakeholders address real impacts, rather than bog down in sterile debate.

TG senior partners have also conducted several baseline socioeconomic studies for gas projects in Pennsylvania. We have assisted our clients in designing a major initiative to support public education in several rural counties with low educational attainment rates and household income.