Survey looks at effects of energy boom

August 3, 2014
Diana Stares, director of Washington & Jefferson College’s Center for Energy Policy and Management, talks in her office in this 2012 photo. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Located in the middle of Marcellus Shale development, Washington & Jefferson College appropriately is at the center of an interesting shale study.

W&J’s Center for Energy Policy & Management teamed with the Environmental Law Institute of Washington, D.C., on “Getting the Boom Without the Bust: Guiding Southwestern Pennsylvania Through Shale Gas Development.”

CEPM released the results Wednesday.

The study also included information from a survey of elected officials in Washington and Greene counties. The center sent a questionnaire to county and municipal officials last fall and 88 – 20 percent – responded.

“Getting the Boom” examined the oil and gas boom in this section of Pennsylvania through the third quarter of 2013 – and concluded the boom is ongoing. The study also looked at ways to prevent or minimize the economic downturn – bust – that frequently follows prosperity in a region once drilling ends.

It also focused on the state impact fees imposed on the industry under Act 13, which benefit counties and municipalities in the areas where natural gas extraction occurs.

CEPM director Diana Stares said: “We looked at how the nearly 7,000 unconventional gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2004 affect housing values, municipal tax bases, roads, job creation and retention, community health and the environment.”

Researchers found that through diligent planning, governments can maintain a high quality of life in the community, preserve the environment and continue to benefit economically from oil and gas.

James NcElfish of ELI, who helped lead the study, said in a news release: “Communities seeking to avoid adverse effects can employ a number of best practices based on monitoring the pace and impacts of development on their local residents, water supplies and roads.”

Among those best practices, he said, are “carefully crafted” ordinances on land uses, consulting with companies before they drill, and planning how best to use impact fees in their towns.

Act 13, not surprisingly, was a key element of the study. So was the state Supreme Court decision in December that invalidated parts of the act that limited local governments’ powers, finding them in violation of the state Constitution.

Impact fees was another prominent subject. McElfish said while counties and towns now routinely expect the funding, amounts may not rise markedly because of the declining formula established in the act.

“More than 1,000 new unconventional wells would have to be drilled each year just to maintain the levels of funding currently distributed to local governments,” he said.

The 88 local officials who answered the 16-question survey, titled "Research Survey on Effects of Marcellus Shale Developmnent on Communities,” were mostly positive toward the industry.

Even though respondents were allowed to remain anonymous, 60 percent fully identified themselves and 14 percent listed their municipality. Of them, 79 percent were from Washington County and 21 percent from Greene.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said residents got jobs in the gas and oil industry. Truck driver, security guard and field/well hand were the most commonly listed vocations.

A smaller percentage – 44.7 – said the industry had a positive effect on municipal revenues. One official said; “We are blessed to receive this money. Probably without it we would be over budget.”

Respondents also listed several negative effects from the industry, led by road damage (33 percent), traffic (26 percent) and noise from compressor stations (8 percent).

CEPM and ELI also issued “Navigating Shale Gas Development: A Guidebook for Local Government Officials in Pennsylvania.” It outlines options available to officials and community organizations under Act 13.

The CEPM-ELI research was supported by grants from the Heinz Endowments.

To access the survey on the W&J website, visit

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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