Last summer, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported 911 calls had increased in seven of Pennsylvania’s eight busiest drilling counties. That wasn’t because rig workers were breaking more laws, county officials told us. It was simply a matter of more people moving into these communities.
Lisa Rice, who runs Tioga County’s 911 center, said many of the calls stem from the heavy trucks clogging the county’s roads. “We’re seeing more accidents involving large rigs,” she said. “Tractor trailers, dump trucks. Vehicles – tractor trailers hauling hazardous materials. Those are things, two years ago, that we weren’t dealing with on a daily basis. It was more two-car accidents.”
Rice said before the heavy trucks came in, 20 traffic stops on a day shift was normal. Now, the county sees about 20 stops in a one-hour period. Dispatchers sitting in Tioga County’s 911 call center, located in the county courthouse’s basement, say they’re seeing similar spikes. A few years ago, they’d handle 15 to 20 calls during an eight-hour shift. Now, the total is more likely to surpass 70.
A new preliminary study from Penn State University came to a different conclusion. Not only does the research show no connection between drilling and crime rates, it found “no consistent increases in arrests or calls to the Pennsylvania State Police in counties with high Marcellus-drilling activity.”
The report does note, though, that while calls to State Police have remained consistent in drilling-heavy counties, those numbers have fallen in non-drilling rural areas.
There are no definitive findings that Marcellus Shale drilling activity has affected crime rates in Pennsylvania, but more study is needed, according to a preliminary report conducted recently by the Justice Center for Research at Penn State. The report was produced in response to public concerns that crime rates may be on the rise in areas experiencing drilling-related population growth.
The study tracks several measures of crime in Pennsylvania’s most active Marcellus Shale drilling regions, in the Northern Tier and the south-western corner of the commonwealth, beginning in 2006 (before the start of significant drilling activity in Pennsylvania) and ending in 2010. After the Marcellus Shale drilling “break-out” period, defined by researchers as intensified drilling activity that began in 2008, there were no consistent increases in arrests or calls to the Pennsylvania State Police in counties with high Marcellus-drilling activity. However, researchers noted a steady decline in calls to State Police in rural counties that have seen no Marcellus activity.
“In the three years since the Marcellus break-out period in 2008, there was a difference in the trends of State Police incidents in Marcellus and non-Marcellus drilling areas, but the difference isn’t so striking that we can say, ‘there’s definitely something here,’” said Lindsay Kowalski, research associate in the Justice Center for Research. “More time needs to elapse before we can identify strong trends.”
StateImpact Pennsylvania is reaching out to the study’s authors, and will have more on this report soon.