Natural gas drilling has transformed two Pennsylvania counties with the greatest development activities, for better and for worse.
That statement in itself is not surprising, but two new studies from the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative have a wealth of data on just how much these communities have been transformed. And some of the findings may surprise you.
For instance, in one of the two communities studied, Tioga County, the story is one of a boom and bust. The county was largely unprepared for the sudden overwhelming presence of the industry, with few tools to manage or plan for growth and change. And then just as suddenly, the industry packed up and left town, taking many of the jobs with them.
Greene County, by contrast, had a history of coal mining and conventional gas drilling. While employment has increased, the county is now even more dependent on extractive industries, which could put the local economy at risk in the event of a slowdown.
Greene County, in the Southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, and Tioga County, along the Northern Tier bordering New York State, are both small rural communities that witnessed a dramatic growth in shale development in recent years.
For both communities, the impact of shale drilling has been mixed. Communities benefited through higher incomes and new jobs but paid a price in the form of more crime, higher costs for police and emergency services, higher rents and a shortage of affordable housing, and heavy truck traffic and greater road maintenance needs.
Both counties had many similar experiences after drilling expanded, including an influx of out-of-state workers and a climate in which companies operated without much local oversight. There were notable differences too, particularly as the industry shifted its focus from drilling for methane, or dry, gas in Tioga to more lucrative wet gas and shale oil in Greene and parts of Ohio and North Dakota.
The two case studies are part of a package that also includes a close look at shale oil and gas drilling in Carroll County, Ohio, and Wetzel County, West Virginia. You can read more of the key Pennsylvania findings here.
Both the Greene and Tioga case studies recommend that communities with increased drilling create local oil and gas taskforces to coordinate discussions between government agencies, local stakeholders, and companies, and that local landowners establish a landowners group to help each other navigate the growth of the industry.
The studies also recommend the state replace its local impact fee with a severance tax and that more investments be made in fixing and policing the roads and making affordable housing more available in hard-hit communities.
Bottom line: while there are localized benefits from gas development, there are also substantial costs — for low-income residents, in the form of increased crime, and in costs to local governments. Communities potentially facing new gas development would do well to greet the development with as much caution as enthusiasm, and to be prepared as much for the bust as the boom.