• Leah Hess

Fracking Fractures Local Communities

Updated: Jul 20, 2021


Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, refers to the use of high-pressure substances to open and widen the naturally occurring cracks in the Earth, allowing for the extraction of petroleum or natural gas. This technique has allowed resource extraction from previously untapped oil-and-gas-containing shale rock and bolstered U.S. energy production, producing 20% of the world’s share in oil.


However, there are downsides; many are against fracking due to its seemingly detrimental effects on the environment, human health*, and community identity. Specifically, fracking may alter communities by altering individual's senses of place, causing internal tensions, and making residents distrustful of those who perpetuate it.


Psychologists have found deep ties between people and their environments. In other words, communities are built not only on interpersonal relationships but on attachments to specific places. Individual and collective identities are therefore disrupted by fracking. What was once a scenic hillside may now be littered with oil wells. A once open road could now be home to swarms of construction vehicles. A study published in Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment describes the “collective trauma” experienced by communities at the heart of the gas industry. Every single individual, regardless of their opinions of the industry, expressed the feeling that the shale gas industry had forever altered the connections they had with their family histories, childhood memories, their land, their neighbors and communities, the past, and the present.


The occurrence of fracking is also a new burden for community members to carry in their daily lives. As a result, stress, depression, and distrust are pervading these communities. Those who have experienced negative health impacts feel let down by those in power, wondering how the government could allow it to happen. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, for example, were found to have ignored 39 percent of public complaints regarding air pollution from oil and gas.


They may also associate these issues with the transient workforce that has become their neighbors. Strangers are now living and working in the backyards of locals, and this has come with significant paranoia. For many, the general distrust towards the industry has translated into a dislike of the drill operators. There are even reports of people accusing industry reps of stealing their air monitors. Some of this suspected crime is likely paranoia, but not all of it. Fracking unfortunately brings crime. According to a report from the Multi-state Shale Research Collaborative, areas with 400 or more hydraulic fracking sites have experienced abnormally high increases in violent crime rates compared to other areas.


Community members also face a new internal battle between those who oppose and those who support fracking. A 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found an onset of animosity, tension, and helplessness in a Denton, TX community as a result of the “us vs. them” attitude that came with fracking. Similarly, some people may lease their land to frackers in exchange for monetary compensation, such as in the case of this Navajo community near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Those who oppose fracking feel like their neighbors who participate are betraying them and their communities.


Whether or not you support or oppose the use of hydraulic fracturing as a means of energy production, it poses clear risks for its host communities. Along with crime and distrust for those in the industry, fracking can cause depression, loss of sense of place, and community tension. The solution to these problems may come in the form of regulatory policies or even a pivot to cleaner energy sources. Nevertheless, more research and cooperation from officials are necessary to ensure the long-term health and safety of communities.

 

Speaking Plainly:

  • Fracking, although economically beneficial for oil producers, has significant disadvantages for rural communities where it takes place.

  • Researchers have proven the significance of a sense of place on personal and community identities; changes to one’s community because of fracking can have long-term psychological impacts.

  • Increased rates of crime and health consequences have led to locals developing paranoia and distrust in their governments, their neighbors, or transient workers.