Saturday, November 29, 2014

Center For Rural PA Study Documents Community Impacts Of Marcellus Drilling Boom

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania recently released the results of a two year study looking at the community impacts of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom in Bradford, Greene, Lycoming and Washington counties from 2005 to mid-2013.
The study, completed by Penn State University, had four goals: (1) Identify and document indicators of economic, social, institutional and infrastructural change related to Marcellus Shale development; (2) Analyze collected data to understand and interpret trends in relation to drilling activity and in comparison to historical and current regional, state and national trends; (3) Describe the experiences of critical populations and institutions relative to activity level; and (4) Examine and evaluate strategies communities have used to effectively manage change.
The study results are contained in nine separate topical report summarized here briefly--
-- Report #1: Population Change and Marcellus Shale Development. The analysis indicated that patterns of population change varied across the study counties, and that the associations with Marcellus Shale development are not clear.
-- Report #2: The Impact of Marcellus Shale Development on Health and Health Care. Very few indicators in health or healthcare service delivery changed in relation to Marcellus Shale development, with the exception of increases in the number of complaints logged by responding emergency medical service personnel. Focus group data indicate increased demands on human service providers, including mental and behavioral health services. Many of the workers associated with the natural gas industry have employer-provided insurance, but that coverage is valid in other states and may not transfer to local areas.
-- Report #3: Marcellus Shale Gas Development and Impacts on Pennsylvania Schools and Education. The analyses indicated very little change in enrollment, student demographics, and student outcomes associated with Marcellus Shale development. Drop-out rates were not changed either, although focus group data suggest the potential that industry-associated opportunities may affect post-secondary educational aspirations of youth.
-- Report #4: Youth Perspectives on Marcellus Shale Gas Development: Community Change and Future Prospects. Youth described their views on the effects of the natural gas industry on their home communities; safety concerns about traffic and road conditions; destruction of natural areas; uncertainty about the impacts of the industry on their communities now and in the future; and relatively low interest in working for the industry. Most of the participants had at least ambivalent feelings about the changes they had seen taking place in their communities.
-- Report #5: Housing and Marcellus Shale Development. The share of housing that was owner- occupied, rental or vacant varied more in counties with smaller populations and more limited housing stocks prior to Marcellus development. The median value of owner-occupied housing increased in the study counties more than the state average during the period of Marcellus Shale development. Focus group participants described the use of temporary housing by both natural gas workers and low-income families, displacement of local people from existing housing, and increased homelessness among low-income individuals and families.
-- Report #6: Effects of Marcellus Shale Development on the Criminal Justice System. The analyses showed relatively little change in most indicators, with the exception of increased rates of calls for service for which the Pennsylvania State Police responded, arrests for driving under the influence, and traffic violations in counties with high levels of Marcellus Shale
-- Report #7: Local Government and Marcellus Shale Development. Analysis of the county audit data through 2011 did not show clear effects of natural gas development on local government budgets. Local officials raised concerns related to impacts on roads from truck traffic, housing problems, their lack of preparation for the growth of the industry, and a lack of transparency by the natural gas industry. They reported spending impact fee dollars on new equipment or new infrastructure to replace what has been damaged, directly or indirectly, by drilling.
-- Report #8: Local Economic Impacts Related to Marcellus Shale Development. Counties with the highest levels of drilling activity generally experienced increased business activity, employment, and wages. During the study period, the number of residents working increased only modestly, suggesting that many of the new jobs that had been created were going to non-residents who either commuted into the county or were living there temporarily.
-- Report #9: Establishing a Baseline for Measuring Agricultural Changes Related to Marcellus Shale Development. Focus group data with farmers and representatives of agricultural services and businesses brought out the following themes: shortages in some farm inputs (e.g., lime) and difficulty of retaining farm labor due to Marcellus development; the ability of farmers to use lease and royalty income to stay in business and reinvest in their operations; changes in the types of operations (such as dairy to beef); intergenerational property transfer; mistrust of natural gas companies; lack of monitoring and company accountability; uncertainty about environmental impacts; uncertainty about long-term impacts; and conflicting views about the impacts on quality of life.
Key Findings
Among the key findings of the report are--
-- Need To Collect Healthcare Use And Health Status Information. There is need for the collection of healthcare use and health status indicator data related to Marcellus Shale and other changes that occur.
This is required to establish a ‘baseline’ of the health of the population in Pennsylvania at a given time, but also to allow for comparison in the future. Identifying whether there are changes in health status associated with Marcellus Shale activity requires the collection of the same information over time. This includes health status of residents living near Marcellus activity as well as individuals who do not live near Marcellus activity.
The health status of workers in the industry also should be considered. If conceived of more broadly, such a data system would provide the ability to monitor changes in the health status of the residents of Pennsylvania over time, improving the ability to project changes in health and the need for health services.
-- Increase Coordination Among State Agencies. It would be useful if state agencies themselves provided clearer communication, coordination and collaboration on Marcellus Shale-related issues, such as between the state agencies of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, Community and Economic Development, Education, Transportation, Public Welfare, Labor and Industry, and Health.
Such coordination may already be occurring behind the scenes, yet there would be great value to enhanced visibility of such efforts. Policy decisions on this issue by one department can have clear implications and impact on other departments. In addition, greater communication can assist with responding appropriately to opportunities or challenges as they arise.
-- Need For Natural Gas Industry To Share Future Plans With Public Officials. There needs to be a means for timely communication between natural gas companies and local officials (at regional, county and local levels) so that natural gas companies can share what they know of their plans to enable local jurisdictions to prepare and respond more quickly and effectively.
For example, natural gas companies could be encouraged to work with local planning offices and those who work in various aspects of housing (e.g., realtors, hotel and motel managers, housing authorities) to detail needs for housing or other services in advance of the natural gas companies’ presence in the region.
Strategies to encourage regular communication, cooperation and coordination among those responding to changes resulting from Marcellus Shale development across the local area/region need to be identified and implemented. Areas affected most initially include roads and traffic management, law enforcement, housing, and water-related utilities and management organizations.
For example, local committees can be encouraged and supported with financial and technical resources to bring together key stakeholders (natural gas company representatives, local housing agencies and nonprofit organizations, private sector developers, environmental organizations, municipal governments) to identify reasonable short-term solutions to major concerns.
-- Water Monitoring & Farm Succession Planning. Based on the concerns expressed during the focus groups, and because of the importance of water for agricultural production, it seems reasonable to recommend policies to mandate more intensive water monitoring throughout the Marcellus region.
Because the Marcellus drilling development has increased property values, policies may be needed to facilitate intergenerational transfer of farmland to facilitate farming, such as legal and other services related to succession planning.
A copy of the summary report is available online.  The nine individual reports are available through the links provided above.

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