Resources for the Future (RFF), an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC, held a webinar series on shale development and community impacts projects, and Penn State has had the opportunity to partner with them on some of the topics. Over the past two years, experts at RFF have undertaken an extensive series of original research projects designed to examine and, when possible, quantify the benefits and costs to local communities experiencing unconventional oil and gas development. This series, “WHIMBY—What’s Happening in My Backyard? The Community Impacts of Unconventional Gas and Oil Development” highlight their findings as well as provide input from other experts.
The initial webinar in the series provides an overview of findings from in-depth literature reviews related to the impacts of shale oil and gas development, such as on health outcomes, induced seismicity, economic effects, housing price changes, truck traffic, educational outcomes, and the effects on local public finances. RFF experts presented the “Community Risk-Benefit Matrix,” in which the literature reviewed were rated based on prevalence, consistency, and quality of findings from the various research. The webinar, “A Community Risk-Benefit Matrix of Unconventional Gas and Oil Development” was presented by Alan J. Krupnick, Senior Fellow, RFF; Isabel Echarte, Research Assistant, RFF; Lucija Anna Muehlenbachs, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary, Visiting Fellow, RFF; and Donna Vorhees, Director of Energy Research, Health Effects Institute. Muehlenbachs discussed in depth the housing literature, and Vorhees shared her perspective of the health impacts on local communities. A Schlumberger modeling tool to aid communities and industry in quantifying local risks before drilling was introduced by Echarte.
“Exploring the Effects of Energy Resource Booms on Public Education” was the topic of the second webinar. Statistical analysis and in-person interviews were used to examine the effects of unconventional energy and school districts in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Nathan Ratledge and Laura Zachary of the RFF research team provided their assessment, revealing divergent trends in student enrollment, student-teacher ratios, and per-pupil revenue and expenses that split largely between school districts in the eastern versus western United States. Kathy Brasier, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology at Penn State University, discussed the contextual factors in the Marcellus that intersect with RFF’s findings. Julia Haggerty, Assistant Professor at Montana State University and Director of the Energy Communities Research Initiative, provided her insights on rural community resilience.
Water use has always been an important issue in shale development and local communities. The third webinar, “Mitigating the Effects of Energy Resource Booms on Water Consumption” explored the Susquehanna River Basin Commission’s Low Flow Protection Policy and effects on water withdrawals for natural gas production. Joining RFF presenters, Yusuke Kuwayama, and Alexandra Thompson, was Dave Yoxtheimer, Hydrologist with Penn State University Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), discussing the roles of policies in limiting water usage in the Marcellus region. Sally Entrekin, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Central Arkansas, also joined in the conversation regarding water use for natural gas development in other regions of the U.S.
“Designing Shale Gas Leases for Landowner and Environmental Protection” highlights an RFF study in Washington County, PA on energy lease terms for landowners. Casey J. WIchman, and Brandon Cunningham with RFF discuss their study of lease clauses as proxies for environmental regulatory protection and the implications for practices that maximize lease productivity and benefits. Grace Wildermuth, Fellow at Penn State University, discusses landowner coalitions and their role in lease negotiations, formation, coordination and organizational processes.
The webinars and related papers and blog posts can be found on Resources for the Future website