Concerns about the environmental effects of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF, commonly referred to as "hydro-fracking" or just "fracking") for shale oil and gas, or the ability of cash-strapped governments to monitor drilling and protect our natural resources, have been met by claims that drilling will have a positive economic impact on the states and localities in which it occurs. In short, officials have been promised job growth and local prosperity in return for assuming environmental risks.
Models projecting of the number of jobs and the economic "ripple effect" that might be created by shale drilling have been widely quoted, but they generate only estimates, and they contain little analysis of the wide range of public costs associated with drilling.
We examined the assumptions behind those models and whether those assumptions are realistic. Then we looked into the costs, among them: direct effects on property values, the local tax base, and on public services such as schools, police, fire and jails; costs associated with increased use of infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, and increased pressure on housing; opportunity costs and effects on competing industries such as tourism and agriculture; and possibly, long term public health costs from air and water pollution.
Our first goal was to give public officials and citizens a realistic picture of the costs and benefits of shale oil and gas extraction. We wanted to change the public discussion about the economic impact of drilling so that the full range of costs from shale extraction are recognized (and so accountability for paying those costs is assigned) by legislators, policy makers, the media, and the public.
Second, proponents say that drilling is safe if it is "done right", so we wanted to give policy makers a picture of "doing it right": how best practices in the environmental management of shale extraction will affect its economic impact.
Finally, we wanted to set out a template for state and local officials to aid them in planning for this or future energy-related investments, to maximize the positive economic benefits and minimize the public costs.
Between the middle of 2010 and the end of 2011, a team of subject area experts, planners, policy analysts, and researchers associated with Cornell University delved into these questions, and produced a series of reports, policy briefs, and resource materials on the various issues, as well as numerous public presentations, webinars, articles, and media interviews. Many of these are available for download from this website.
Further, the implications of our findings for the work of local officials and community organizations has been utilized by our partners in the Cornell Cooperative Extension, who have been working with these and many other stakeholders in New York since well before we began. Their website on the subject is the Natural Gas Resource Center.
Our goal is to deepen the discussion of this contentious issue and the policy issues that need to be addressed, especially among state officials.
* * *
The second phase of our work, conducted throughout 2012 and 2013, focused on local government strategies in response to the prospect that shale extraction or its attendant infrastructure may come to their community. Efforts to control shale development engage local officials in difficult decisions, and no research had been done to examine why a growing number of localities have enacted drilling legislation or regulations, or why they chose one strategy over another. Why does a community support shale development, or opt for a moratorium, or choose a ban on shale drilling rather than a zoning ordinance approach? Are there innovative practices or legislative actions that enable communities to control their fate? What is the status of state laws pre-empting localities from enacting regulatory controls on drilling?
We carried out a systematic study of communities taking local legislative action in response to HVHF shale gas and oil development in the four Marcellus states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia). We began by developing a database of communities and the type of legislative action they had taken -- using (and cross-checking) press reports; the websites of research, advocacy and interest organizations; local government and community websites; and direct inquiry -- and continually updated it over the course of 2012. We used a socio-economic analysis to learn about how these communities compare with similar communities in their state, mapped them, and classified their location along a rural-urban continuum based on national standards.
We then used these classifications to select a stratified sample of communities that had passed local resolutions or legislation on shale gas development in two states -- New York (which has not yet authorized HVHF natural gas development) and Pennsylvania (which has) -- and conducted structured interviews with the highest-ranking public official or his or her designee in each community. Our interviews obtained information on the process of decision-making, on the critical issues discussed in public meetings, and on community expectations regarding oil and gas industry practices and state regulation or monitoring of the industrial activities associated with HVHF.
We also posed questions on the attitudes of New York residents toward shale gas development via the Empire State Poll conducted yearly by Cornell University's Survey Research Institute.
We identified 298 Marcellus Region communities thus far that have instituted local government legislation, regulation, or resolutions on shale gas development -- 244 (179 in New York, 33 in Pennsylvania, and the rest in Ohio and West Virginia) that have implemented a drilling moratorium, adopted regulatory controls, or banned drilling outright -- and another 54 New York communities that have passed resolutions supporting shale gas development under state regulation.
Our goal is to provide affected communities, local and state officials, the environmental law community, and the industry with practical, policy-relevant research, documentation, and analysis on why communities support or restrict shale extraction activity, and what strategies they are using to avoid entanglement with state prohibitions against local regulation or to challenge them.
* * *
In the third phase of our project, begun in 2014, we looked beyond the drilling regions to examine the underreported "footprint" of shale development nationally and its implications for other communities large and small, especially the public safety and environmental risks posed by increasing crude oil transport by rail.
Then, we have returned to where we started -- to the tension between environmental risk and economic benefit that has framed debate over The Shale Decision at every level. Ten years into the shale boom, we have more before-and-after information from drilling regions, and more data on the patterns of employment. Estimates of potential job creation can now be compared with actual job numbers.
Our goal is to examine actual job creation in states and regions with a history of shale gas development, and the reasons for the employment patterns found in the shale industry. Because job creation has been presented as a rationale for unimpeded shale development, pre-emption of local land use controls, or limited oversight of environmental effects, we hope to improve the knowledge base among those engaged in public policy discussions about the trade-offs between economic benefits and environmental protection. In some states, for example, policies assume that the counties and localities being affected by shale development, as well as the state economy, benefit so greatly from job creation connected to shale development that no severance tax is necessary to compensate for community costs. Yet because policymakers and the media lack evidence on the actual job impacts across shale plays, many continue to use the estimates from earlier input/output models as a "surrogate" measure. Missing is an analysis of the real numbers, the quality of jobs created, how long they last, or how the jobs created by shale gas development are distributed around the country. We analyze what proportion of the workforce in the oil and gas sector resides in the regions where drilling takes place, what is the pattern of indirect or induced employment over time in a given drilling region, where do the least volatile and best-paying jobs concentrate -- data that will provide a basis for comparison with the projections that have been provided by industry sources.
Those projections have been largely the result of input/output ("I/O") models that are highly dependent on assumptions -- about where workers live, where landowners with gas leases reside, or where and when expenditures associated with shale gas development will occur, for example. So finally, to help state, county, or local officials make informed policy decisions regarding shale development, we want to frame for them the right questions when commissioning an economic impact study, identify the choices regarding study methods, demonstrate the limitations of I/O models alone, and illustrate what other methods would obtain a more complete picture of the economic consequences.