Is fracking also to blame for rape, drug use and STDs?

Rural boom towns around natural gas wells are plagued by social ills

Topics: fracking, anti-fracking, Violence Against Women, Rape, stds, Methamphetamine, Oil and Gas, ,

“Critics of fracking have compared it to raping the Earth, but where drilling has spread literal rape has followed,” claims a recent Vice article that despite its headline (“Fracking Gave Me Gonorrhea”) in fact makes some serious points about the social impact of fracking — or, to be more precise, the boom areas that have cropped up around major fracking operations:

To fill the gap in available housing for a surging transient workforce, company-housing units—known as “man camps”—have sprung up on the outskirts of once meager population centers. It’s work hard, play hard. You are 7.6 times more likely to die working on an oil or gas rig than in any other industry, so it’s understandable that when payday comes, these guys want to burn off steam. Unfortunately for many small towns around the country, a fracking worker’s idea of fun can be a bit debauched.

…Violence against woman in fracking boomtowns in North Dakota and Montana has increased so sharply that the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced in June that it plans to spend half a million dollars investigating the correlation. In soliciting grants from researchers the DoJ speculated that “oil industry camps may be impacting domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the direct and surrounding communities in which they reside.”

Vice also cites a September study from the environmental group Food and Water Watch (FWW) that looked at the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania. In fracked, rural counties, it found a 7.2 percent increase in heavy truck crashes (compared to a 12.4 percent decline in untapped counties), a 17.1 rise in arrests for disorderly conduct (compared to a 12.7 percent increase elsewhere) and an overall average increase in cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea of 62 percent. Methamphetamine use is on the rise in such areas, too, and the Vice article draws a connection between that and the 12-plus-hour shifts worked by frackers.



Fracking itself, of course, doesn’t cause sexual violence or other societal ills, and that fracking towns might not be good places to work or live isn’t a valid reason to call off the tapping of natural gas. Allegations of contaminated water, air pollution and earthquakes, on the other hand, might be. Taken together, all are reasons communities might want to second-guess drilling, and that the rest of us, who benefit from the tapped energy without having to deal with the local consequences, would do well to bear in mind.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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