We’ll have a million new oil and gas wells drilled over the next few decades in the U.S. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get them right.
-Robert Jackson, Duke University
Backyard Wells Test Balance of Daily Life and Long Term Benefits
After extensive data analysis of oil and gas well location data (from drillinginfo.com) and recent US census data for more than 700 counties in 11 major energy-producing states, The Wall Street Journal has concluded that at least 15.3 million Americans lived within a mile of an oil or gas well that has been drilled since 2000.
This is in sharp contrast to most coal mines, power plants, oil refineries and chemical plants which are usually located in more rural areas or in urban industrial zones – away from dense population centers and especially far from upscale neighborhoods.
As an extreme example, in 2000 Johnson County, Texas had fewer than 20 oil and gas wells. Only a fraction of the residents of this mostly suburban county, south of Fort Worth, lived anywhere near a well or could even tell you where to find one. Today, more than 3,900 wells dot the county and some 99.5% of its 150,000 residents live within a mile of a well.
Balance of Life Near Wells
Some cities and counties try to mitigate the impact of drilling by restricting where and how the drilling is done. Some require noise barriers or limit the hours of operation. In PA, Act 13 collected a substantial “impact fee” from producers and returned a portion of those funds to the cities and counties where the drilling occurred. In return, local zoning ordinances were not to be allowed to restrict drilling. That restriction on local zoning authority is currently under judicial review.
In eastern PA, Emily Krafjack lives 500 feet from one well pad; another is less than a mile away. When the closer well was drilled, she says, the noise was so loud that she couldn’t hear her television, and idling trucks waiting to unload fracking sand filled her house with diesel fumes. She is working with the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit that strives to strike a “delicate balance” between the irritation of living near wells and the benefits they bring. The group’s mission isn’t to stop the drilling, she says, but to preserve quality of life and protect the environment while helping the economy.
Robert Jackson, a biology professor at Duke University who has researched fracking says “Any time there is more industrial activity where people live, in some cases in people’s backyards, there is more chance that something goes wrong,” says . “We’ll have a million new oil and gas wells drilled over the next few decades in the U.S.,” he says. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to get them right.”
Effect on Home Values
Nearby fracking can also lower the value of homes based on a fear that it will contaminate groundwater. One study in suburban Pittsburgh found that, between 2004 and 2009, prices of homes near wells were 10% higher than homes further from wells—unless the home relied on well water instead of municipal water, in which case the sale price was 16% lower than expected. “There is clearly a perception of a risk to groundwater,” says study author Lucija Muehlenbachs, a research fellow at Resources for the Future, a nonprofit energy and environment agency based in Washington, DC.