Marcellus Areas See Increase in Drunk Driving, Lesser Crimes

A statistical certainty is that as the population of an area grows, there’s bound to be more drunk driving arrests and more crime in general—one of the “hazards” of an increasing population. And so it is in Bradford County, PA and other regions in the Marcellus Shale where the Marcellus drilling boom is happening. The increase in crime is not caused by drilling, according to law enforcement officials, but is a simple fact that where there’s more people there are bound to be more criminal incidents. It’s one of the negatives of drilling, like industrialization of rural areas (more trucking, more noise, more traffic) that must be recognized and if possible, mitigated or at least anticipated.

An increase in criminal cases can strain a local justice system according to Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett:

In Bradford County, Pa., drunken driving arrests are up 60 percent. Criminal sentencing was up 35 percent in 2010. And in Towanda, the county seat, DUI arrests were up 50 percent.

Why? The frenzy of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, which has boosted the economies of some of Pennsylvania’s smallest and most rural counties in recent years, has also led to rapid population swells and — by extension — more crime.

"Economic boom equals crime boom," said Daniel J. Barrett, the district attorney of Bradford County, which borders southern New York.

However, most of those who spoke to [the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] were quick to say they didn’t blame the industry for any rise in crime; and several said the large drilling companies had been supportive of local law enforcement. Industry advocates, meanwhile, said they hadn’t seen crime rise in areas where there’s a high concentration of drilling activity — and to whatever extent that crimes happens, it’s not representative of the natural gas industry.

But according to Mr. Barrett, the big increases in DUI arrests and criminal sentencing in his county are at least partially attributable to the gas industry workers who have come to the county in droves over the past few years. And both local law enforcement and prosecution, including his office, are starting to feel the strain, he said.

"The issue is: We’ve got an expanded burden on the criminal justice system," he said, adding that while the private housing market, for example, responded to the population uptick by expanding hotels and increasing the number of rental properties, there has been no comparable way for law enforcement and prosecution to adapt to its increased caseload.

"The hotel that makes lots of money expands, but the criminal justice system that’s taking more cases can’t look to its customers to fund an expansion," he said. And while Mr. Barrett said he expected that his office would call for additional funding from the county government, for now his office and law enforcement agencies had handled the larger caseload by "enduring it."

According to Mr. Barrett, the state police have added five more troopers to the station in Towanda. Meanwhile, he said, "The county and local police agencies are reviewing what can be done to deal with the numbers, and the courts have had to allocate more time to criminal cases."

Still, Mr. Barrett stressed that he was not blaming the rise in crime in his county on any failures of the gas industry itself.

Instead, he said, the issue is more about statistical probability.

"I’m not anti-gas," he said. "But if you bring a couple thousand people — particularly males — to an area as temporary workers, there are going to be stresses put on law enforcement in the area."

Mr. Barrett said the large drilling companies had been "very supportive" of local law enforcement and prosecution, often requiring employees to submit to drug and alcohol testing, but that the smaller subcontractors they use were often less discerning about who they hire.*

Notably, crimes like armed robbery, murder, rape and other serious offenses have not seen an increase in areas with a Marcellus drilling boom.

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Aug 15, 2011) – Must crime follow Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom?