Those who live in the closest proximity to unconventional oil and gas wells are generally more familiar with, and more supportive of development than those who live farther away, a new study finds. Titled, “The Effect of Geographic Proximity to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development On Public Support for Hydraulic Fracturing,” the Oregon State University report also found that those with a higher level of education are more likely to be familiar with and supportive of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). From the study:
“Does proximity to UOGD influence support for hydraulic fracturing? By coupling national geo-referenced opinion data with high-resolution well location data, we overcome some of the limitations of existing research and find generalizable empirical evidence that those who are located closer to a new unconventional oil and gas well are more familiar with and more support of hydraulic fracturing, even after controlling for individual- and contextual-level variables.” (emphasis added)
Considering the substantial economic benefits associated with oil and gas development, along with unwarranted environmental concerns that can come with not understanding the process, it’s no surprise that those who are closer to shale development have a better understanding and more positive opinion of fracking. According to a 2016 report from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, the net benefits of fracking on a community total between $1,300 and $1,900 per household annually. Further, fracking was found to boost local average income by six percent, local employment by 10 percent, and raise housing prices by roughly six percent. A co-author of that report, Michael Greenstone, recently stated that the local economic impacts of fracking have been “quite dramatic.”
The Oregon State University report shows the relationship between the support of and familiarity with fracking also appears to work in reverse, as the authors mention that those farther away from development are more likely to associate fracking with negative impacts. According to the study:
“It also implies that those located farther away from a newly active well are more likely to associate UOGD with negative impacts, even if these negative impacts are less likely to affect them or their community.”
While this idea seems like common sense, its repercussions are both significant and observable. First, this gives credence to the idea that those who have a better understanding of fracking – i.e. those in areas where it is occurring – are more likely to support it or to encourage further development to take place. In turn, this helps explain why campaigns to ban or restrict fracking often originate from areas with little to no oil and gas development, including countless fake “local control” campaigns funded and organized by out-of-state activist groups such as San Francisco-based Sierra Club and Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks.
For example, a few years ago in Denton, Texas, a suburb north of Fort Worth, small factions within the community pushed to ban fracking within the city limits. One such group, Frack Free Denton, a “project of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG),” pushed for what it called the “restoration of local regulatory authority over urban oil and gas production.” Notably, this group was backed by Earthworks, which not only supported efforts such as collecting signatures, it also donated roughly $40,000 to back DAG’s anti-fracking campaign.
Though the ban passed (and has since been overturned), the fact that voters in the two most-drilled Denton neighborhoods — Vintage and the Meadows of Hickory Creek — rejected the fracking ban by two-to-one margin, debunking the activist narrative that the push for a fracking ban was being driven by neighborhoods that would be directly affected by development. As Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy observed:
“Denton’s heaviest drilling corridor, and its largest permanent homeowner voting precinct (which includes the Robson Ranch and Vintage Homes communities), voted 65% AGAINST the drilling ban. Additionally, Denton seniors who cast their absentee ballots by mail voted 51.5% AGAINST the drilling ban.”
Similarly, an out-of-state activist-backed effort to ban fracking in Youngstown, Ohio, has been rejected six consecutive times. Ohioans who have experienced first-hand the benefits of Utica Shale development have repeatedly rejected repeated attempts by activists who live nowhere near the oil and gas development to end that development.
Contrary to what national “Keep It In the Ground” groups have trumpeted for years, this study confirms that folks who live near fracking — and truly understand it — are more supportive of shale development, while the “local control” movement is, ironically, largely the product of outside national activist groups.