By Erie [Rising] Mom and Guest Blogger
Andrea M. Roy
With all the studies that have acknowledged the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, it’s easy to overlook the impact on our society as it relates to crime. Though there are indeed few studies that link increased crime to the oil and gas industry, it’s hard to ignore the relevance of the studies that have been done. These studies indicate that mining communities, or Gas Boom Towns, should expect severe strain on their infrastructure. This includes but is not limited to housing shortages, road degradation, noise pollution, increased crime, and stress on court and jail systems, not to mention the added pressure on the police force (4).
An 8 year study on sexual predators, energy development and conservation found in the Society of Conservation Biology, relates oil and gas operations to quality of life. In this study they found that the citizens in energy extraction boom towns experience a diminished quality of life. Since most workers are transients there is an increase in crime to the point that small rural towns find themselves needing a larger police force (2). This is a direct result of the oil and gas industry introducing a large, non-local male workforce into a community. The workers either find housing in a nearby community, but more common is that the industry provides shelter, called man camps. These camps house anywhere from 6 to a couple hundred men, depending on the size of the well pad (4). The increase in crime is a result of the rampant alcohol and drug (specifically methamphetamine) abuse (3).
According to an interview on NPR with EnCana workers, the oil and gas industry is very much aware of the substance abuse problems among their employees. A crew leader who has worked with EnCana for 30 years claims that drug abuse has worsened substantially within the past 3 decades “it’s known that the transient and risk taker lifestyle of roughnecks leads to drug and alcohol abuse”(3). EnCana claims they have a strict zero alcohol and drug policy within their man camps, but the chief of police, DarrylMeisner, in Rifle, CO says the policy does not work. He claims that drug and alcohol related crimes are increasing up to 3% each year, while in rural Colorado meth related offenses are more than twice the national average(3). While Meisner admits there are no hard stats to show that the increase of drug related crimes is directly related to the gas rigs, but he firmly believes it’s more than just a coincidence. Not only do petty crimes and misdemeanor offenses increase but serious crimes such as sexual assaults on women increase(4). The study mentioned above directly relates energy extraction and sexual predators. “In these towns it has been found that the number of sex offenders in counties reliant on energy extraction grew two to three times faster than counties where energy extraction was absent(4). In some counties the amount of sexual predators grew 300% within a 10 year time period”(4).
We need to question whether or not natural gas extraction is indeed a viable source of growth considering that short term economic booms often leave communities worse off once the oil and gas industry leaves in search of its next gas boom town(1).