An Intro to Fracking Part II: Economic & Social Concerns

Our last post “An Intro to Fracking: Environmental and Social Health Impacts” explored the environmental and health effects of fracking and those alone were pretty bad. However, the story continues with an exploration of the economic and social concerns which include negative effects on livelihoods and communities:  

  • Short term gains, but long-term costs. The hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed industries to access gas and oil from places that difficult places, and to do it for cheap (without having to pay for adequate environmental impact reports or effects of fracking). This means that it does cost one-third less to fill up with natural gas than traditional gasoline. Although the cost that you will be paying directly for energy use will be lower with natural gas, there are plenty of social costs that are then transferred to the consumer including through pollution and contribution to climate change. In current economic paradigm the polluter does not pay for these negative externalities or societal costs, we do.
  • Losses for Agricultural & Local Businesses. The contaminated land and water doesn’t just clean itself up and often becomes unusable. Harm to agricultural activity already taking place in the area includes damage to livestock from exposure to fracking fluids. Such contamination hinders productivity. Local economies also suffer from decreases in tourism and new businesses due to the liabilities and lack of desire to set up shop in a fracking area. Sustainable growth and communities can’t be achieved through a dependence on the income from fracking activities.
  • Landowners & Local Citizens.  Fracking significantly decreases local home values and can take away the peaceful way of life that communities have created in rural areas. Trucks used in the fracking process put lots of stress on roads and damages property, resulting in  public infrastructure deterioration. Even Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson suffers from a case of “Not In My Backyard” syndrome when it comes to fracking. He recently brought suit against Cross Timbers to block a proposed water tower that would help supply fracking operations in the area as it would hurt the aesthetics and value of his property.
  • Other Social Issues. Just like the towns of the Gold Rush boom, rural areas experiencing the fracking-boom, especially in states like North Dakota, are experiencing other social issues coming from “man camps” such as higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and civil disturbances. These frack-boom towns usually are located in more remote areas and have a 3-1 male-female ratio. The lack of activities to occupy workers’ leisure times as well as the increased use of alcohol abuse lead to civil disturbances and prostitution.

Although in the short term the economic and social costs alone may not be incentive enough to limit fracking, many effects are long-term and “hidden” costs that are borne by consumer when it comes to natural gas. The jobs created with extraction can also be created tapping into cleaner renewable energy instead, which has shown to even bring communities together rather than apart. Dedicating time and resources to fossil fuels (yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel) takes focus away from the transition towards a low carbon economy, and long-term sustainability.

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