At the start of the fracking boom, the oil and gas industry promised our region more than 200,000 new jobs as part of a so-called “shale renaissance,” one that would bring unprecedented wealth and prosperity to struggling local communities. Regional policymakers leapt on exaggerated reports produced by the industry, spouting off the projected economic benefits of unconventional drilling and throwing our public funds at fossil fuel corporations.
With very little regulation to impede fracking development, well pads, compressor stations, and processing facilities started spreading like wildfire. (So did fracking waste. Companies began taking the radioactive brine used to stimulate new and existing wells and injecting it underground, without any regard for the environmental or public health consequences.) Natural gas production soared far beyond even the lofty projections of the oil and gas industry. The latest research from the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI) shows that, from 2008 to 2019, the 22 most productive natural gas counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania increased their economic output by 35.2%, a rate three times higher than the nation’s economic growth. Natural gas production in the region contributed tens of millions of dollars to the U.S. economy.
So where did all that money go?
In the same time period, the region’s share of the nation’s personal income fell by 6.3%. Jobs fell by 7.6%. And the region’s share of the nation’s population fell by nearly 11%. While our economic contributions went through the roof, all of the region’s measures of local economic prosperity declined.
According to economist Kathy Hipple, Bard College professor of finance and former analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, “The business case for fracking has never been proven. The Appalachian shale gas producers have been spectacularly unsuccessful financially, despite impressive production gains. Many have filed for bankruptcy. Others have taken massive write-offs. This financial failure of the natural gas sector extends to local communities.”
“Simply put, the natural gas industry has not delivered the promised benefits for producers, investors — or local communities,” she said.
Meanwhile, the overproduction of fracked gas has led to disastrous health consequences for local residents. Folks who live near shale gas infrastructure have suffered serious health effects from exposure to airborne pollutants. According to the Environmental Health Project, active frack pads, compressor stations, and processing facilities regularly emit particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other hazardous chemical pollutants that we aren’t able to see. When ingested, these emissions can cause or worsen a host of short- and long-term health problems, including headaches, eye and throat irritation, respiratory complications, chest pain, asthma, and various types of cancer.
At the same time, our region has become the industry’s dumping ground for toxic, radioactive frack waste. Dangerous injection wells continue to be constructed in Ohio and West Virginia, and plans to barge this hazardous waste on the Ohio River threaten the drinking water supply of five million people and support the proliferation of more pollutive infrastructure.
The ORVI report puts numbers to a sentiment we’ve long known is true: we, the residents of the Ohio Valley, are getting a raw deal. We suffer the effects of air pollution, groundwater contamination, heavy truck traffic, and decreased property values while far-off boardrooms count the profits extracted from our resources.
We know the fracking boom was an economic bust. And we’re tired of broken promises. We deserve dependable, well-paying jobs, clean air and water, and a long-term, sustainable economy we can rely on for generations to come. Do you have ideas for the future of the Ohio River Valley? Join Concerned Ohio River Residents in creating a Better Vision.