Ohio communities with higher levels of natural gas “fracking” activities also had 20% higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to a study published last month by the journal PLOS One that adds to the literature on the social impact of boomtown economic development.
“The shale gas industry is a rapidly expanding industry that is occurring in as many as 30 states around the United States, as well as many countries worldwide,” said lead author and Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist Nicole Deziel. “Yet we have a very limited understanding of the public health and community impacts of this industry. Because if there are, steps could be taken to try to reduce or mitigate those.”
Deziel explained that “drilling and fracking for shale gas typically brings in large numbers of specialized, trained workers,” Energy News Network writes. “The labour force in those ‘work camps’ is mostly young male workers. Typically, those workers have few or no family nearby and no emotional ties to the communities where they work. Ready disposable income, a ‘hyper-masculinized’ culture in the camps, and other factors could lead them to seek ‘multiple new or casual sex partnerships, which are all known risk factors for STI transmission,’” Deziel stated.
While other industries produce different degrees of labour migration, what sets fracking apart “is really the sheer scale of the industry,” she added, with more than 2,000 wells drilled in Ohio’s section of the Utica shale formation alone.
“Whether the association between shale gas development and increased STI rates is causal awaits further investigation,” Deziel’s report stated. But “industry or policy-makers should consider this study among the growing number of studies documenting some health impacts” from fracking, including higher rates of asthma, birth defects, and water quality issues.