Fracking benefits local economies, but drives up crime rates, study finds

Hydraulic fracturing and the shale boom have provided  many benefits for communities around the country, but the boom has also driven up local crime rates and decreased residents’ quality of life, according to a University of Chicago study released Thursday.

In the study, researchers with the Energy Policy Institute at the university tried to quantify the benefits of the successful yet controversial fracking boom around the country between 2000 and 2013. Overall, as fracking unlocked previously inaccessible reservoirs of oil and gas, Americans have benefited: their incomes and wages went up, their homes increased in value and their communities have more jobs. On average, housing prices rose by 6 percent and employment rose by 10 percent generally and by 40 percent for oil and gas jobs.

“This study makes it clear that on net there are benefits to local economies–which we believe is useful information for leaders in the United States and abroad who are deciding whether to allow fracking in their communities,” said Chris Knittel, one the study’s authors and the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.

But the 10-year-old fracking boom also had a downside. The report found that oil and gas communities also reported higher crime rates, more traffic, pollution and general anxiety over the environmental dangers of fracking, which injects a mixture of chemicals, sand and water deep underground to release oil and gas. Students, elderly residents and those without mineral rights were also less likely to benefit from increased fracking, the study found.

The study’s researchers concluded that the benefits of fracking outweigh the costs, but that scale could tip if more research concludes that fracking is an environmental hazard, affected water quality and human health.

In 2015, fracking accounted for about half of all U.S. crude oil production, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Fifteen years ago, oil from fracked wells accounted for only 2 percent of all U.S. production,.

Fracking has had the biggest impact in  Texas’ Eagle Ford and Permian basins and in the Bakken in North Dakota and eastern Montana. North Dakota residents have benefited the most from the boom, as home prices increased by 23 percent.

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