There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

Public Perception of Sustainability

By Jill Terner, PA Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against  unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to unconventional drilling. This map shows municipal movements in NY State against the process (06/13/2014)

In the previous two installments of this three part series, I discussed how sustainability provides a common platform for people who support and deny the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from the ground. While these opposing sides may frequently use sustainability in their rhetoric, the term has different connotations depending on which side is presented. The dynamic definition of sustainability makes it a boundary object, or a term that many people can use in shared discourse, all while defining it in different nuanced ways1. This way, the definition of sustainability alters between groups of people, and may also change over time.

First, I wrote about how pro-industry groups tend to focus primarily on the economic angle of sustainability rather than a more holistic understanding when arguing that hydraulic fracturing is the best choice for local and national communities.  In my second post, I discussed how pro-environment groups see sustainability as a multifaceted entity, treating social and environmental sustainability with as much importance as economic. Here, I will focus on what can cause differences in public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as well as what might be done to mitigate potential confusion caused by competing definitions of sustainability.

A Few Explanations for Differing Opinions

A national survey conducted in 2013 found that by and large, people had no opinion of hydraulic fracturing.  This was probably due to the fact that the majority of respondents indicated that they had heard little to nothing about hydraulic fracturing also known as unconventional drilling. Those who did identify as having an opinion either for or against drilling were split nearly evenly*. While survey participants on both sides recognized that there could be several economic benefits related to industrial presence, they also acknowledged that distribution of these benefits might not be equitable. Additionally, recognition of environmental and social threats is correlated with a negative view of industry. The stronger a respondents’ concern is about damaging environmental and social outcomes resulting from drilling activities, the more likely they were to express negative opinions about the industry2.

What is responsible for this difference of opinion? One possible explanation lies in the level of drilling activity a given community is experiencing. In areas where hydraulic fracturing is more prevalent, residents are more likely to have leased their land to drilling companies, so they are more likely to adjust their attitude to reflect their actions. They have made a significant investment by leasing their land, so they are likely to be optimistic about the payoff3.

Relatedly, the length of time that industry has been active in an area might also affect public perceptions. When industry is relatively new, many residents of nearby communities are optimistic about the economic gains that it may bring. However, alongside this optimism, residents may also express trepidation regarding what the influx of new people and wealth might do to community integrity. Over time, though, residents of areas where industry has maintained a continued presence may have adjusted to the changes brought on by industry, or have had their initial fears mitigated3, 4,5.

Geographically speaking, proximity to a major metropolitan area may also play a role in public perception of unconventional drilling.  In counties where there are more metropolitan areas, there is the potential for an increase in negative social side effects. For example, an increase in violent crimes5, 6, uneven distribution of wealth generated by industry4, and loss of community character4, 6, might be offset by the fact that the influx of new workers makes up a smaller proportion of the county population than in less urbanized counties4.

On a broader geographical scale, state-by-state differences in opinion could be largely due to how prohibitive or permissive laws are regarding drilling. In states such as New York, where legislation demonstrates concern for the environment and safety, residents may be more likely to see sustainability as something more than just economic. On the other hand, in states like Pennsylvania where legislation is relatively permissive, residents may be more likely to see economic sustainability as most important due to the political climate4. This view is also known as the chicken/egg phenomenon: does the public’s opinion sway legislation, or does legislation drive public opinion? Either way, the differences across state lines remains.

What can be done to better inform public opinion?

Above, I mentioned a study where researchers found that the vast majority of survey participants held no opinion regarding unconventional drilling, largely due to lack of knowledge about it2. Therefore making unbiased information readily available and understandable to the public will allow them to make informed opinions on the subject. For example, having access to objective literature regarding unconventional drilling provides the opportunity to increase awareness and inform individuals about the practice of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts. In order to have the most impact we must first asses where gaps in public knowledge lie. Engaging in projects such as community based participatory research and then qualitatively assessing the results will reveal common misconceptions or knowledge gaps that need to be addressed through educational programs.

Also, most predictions regarding the unconventional drilling boom are based on a boom-and-bust cycles of past industries4. For example, they look at longitudinal studies where representative groups of residents within communities are followed over time, and they also focus on existing communities affected by industry identifying the social, environmental, and economic outcomes related to industry. This way, any comparisons drawn would be within the same industry, even if they were between two different cities.

Finally, the information gleaned from community based participatory or longitudinal research should be presented by an unbiased party and made easily available. Promoting transparency within biased institutions is equally important. While each entity uses the term “sustainability” to dynamically fit its rhetorical needs, few entities prioritize the same kinds of sustainability. Therefore, it is up to industry, environmental groups, and independent researchers alike to provide a transparent atmosphere of honest information so that individuals can decide which understanding of sustainability they would like to see informing the progress of unconventional drilling in their communities.

About the Author

Jill Terner is an MPH candidate at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a native Pittsburgher. Interning with FracTracker in fall of 2013 has cemented Jill’s interest in combining Environmental Public Health with her passion for Social Justice.  After completing her MPH in May 2015, Jill hopes to find work helping people better understand, interact with, and mitigate threats to their environment – and how their environment impacts their health.


* 13% did not know how much they had heard about drilling, 39% had heard nothing at all, 16% had heard “a little”, 22% had heard “some”, and 9% had heard “a lot.” Of these respondents, 58% did not know/were undecided about whether they supported drilling, 20% were opposed, and 22% were supportive2.


  1. Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19, 387-420.
  2. Boudet, H., Carke, C., Bugden, D., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Leiserowitz, A. (2013). “fracking” controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public erceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy, 65, 57-67.
  3. Kriesky, J., Goldstein, B. D., Zell, K., & Beach, S. (2013). Differing opinions about natural gas drillingin two adjacent counties with different livels of drilling activity. Energy Policy, 50, 228-236.
  4. Wynveen, B. J. (2011). A thematic analysis of local respondents’ perceptions of barnett shale energy development. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 8-31.
  5. Brasier, K. J., Filteau, M. R., McLaughlin, D. K., Jacquet, J., Stedman, R. C., Kelsey, T. W., & Goetz, S. J. (2011). Residents’ perceptions of community and environmental impacts from development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale: A comparison of Pennsylvania and New York cases. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 32-61.
  6. Korfmacher, K. S., Jones, W. A., Malone, S. L., & Vinci, L. F. (2013). Public Health and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. New Solutions, 23(1) 13-31.

Crime and the Utica Shale

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

No matter where you live in Ohio you have probably asked yourself if crime trends will be – or have already been – affected by the shale gas boom.

To quantify the relationship between crime rates and oil and gas development, we compared 14 OH counties (that have more than 10 Utica permits) to statewide safety metrics. Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Statistical Analysis Unit provided us with the necessary crime data. From this dataset, we chose to analyze several metrics:

a. three types of arrests,
b. two types of violations and accidents, and
c. misdemeanors and suspended licenses (as proxies for changes in safety).

Image of accident involving truck carrying freshwater for fracking between January 20th and 27th of 2014 during snowstorm adjacent to Seneca Lake, Noble and Guernsey Counties, Ohio adjacent to Antero pad off State Route 147 Map of Senaca Lake, OH frackwater truck accident between January 20th and 27th, 2014. Map of the area including producing or drilled Antero wells (Red Points) and laterals along with State Route 147
Accident involving truck carrying freshwater for fracking between Jan. 20 and 27 of 2014 during snowstorm adjacent to Seneca Lake, Noble and Guernsey Counties, OH adjacent to Antero pad off State Route 147 Map of Senaca Lake, OH Jan 2014 frackwater truck accident including producing or drilled Antero wells (Red Points) and laterals along with State Route 147

Crunching the Data

The data in Table 1 below are corrected for changes in population at the state level (+0.2% per year) and at the county level, with the annualized rate for the counties of interest ranging between -2.2% in Jefferson and -0.05 in Tuscarawas. We used the first four months of 2014 to determine an annualized rate for the rest of 2014. Since the first Utica permit was issued on Sept. 28, 2010, we assumed that the 2009 data would be an close measure for the ambient levels for the nine crime metrics we investigated across Ohio prior to shale gas development.

Statewide Crime Trends

Overturned frac sand trucks in Carroll County, OH May, 2014 (Courtesy of Carol McIntire, The Free Press Standard)

Overturned frac sand trucks in Carroll County, OH May, 2014 (Courtesy of Carol McIntire, The Free Press Standard)

Commercial Vehicle Enforcements (CVE) and Crashes Investigated are the only metrics that increase by 8.9% and 6.9% per year, larger than the statewide averages of 2.8% and 6.0%. Respectively, 10 of the 14 shale gas counties have experienced rates that exceed the state average. Noble, Harrison, Columbiana, Carroll, and Monroe are experiencing annualized CVE increases that are 15-57% higher than Ohio as a whole.

Meanwhile, Crashes Investigated are increasing at a slower pace relative to the state wide average, with Carroll, Noble, and Jefferson counties experiencing >5% rate increases relative to the entire state (Table 1). There is a strong increasing linear relationship between the number of Utica permits and the average percent change in CVE and Crashes Investigated. The former accounts for a combined 66% change in the latter. From a macro perspective, the Utica counties accounted for 19.8% of all OH CVEs in 2009 prior to shale gas exploration and now account for 25.1% of all CVEs.  Crashes Investigated as a percentage of state totals, however, only increased from 21.3% to 21.7%.

The other variable that is significantly and positively correlated with Utica permitting at the present time is the number of Suspended License reports, with the former explaining 22% of the average annual change in the latter since 2009.

Given that we investigated changes in nine public safety metrics we thought it would be worth categorizing the fourteen counties by state wide averages:

  1. Significantly Less Safe (SLS) – >5 of 9 metrics increasing,
  2. Noticeably Less Safe (NLS) – 4 metrics, and
  3. Marginally Less Safe (MLS) – <3 metrics.

Our findings support that about half the Utica counties fall within the SLS category, with Harrison, Jefferson, Columbiana, and Trumbull experiencing higher relative rates across seven or more of the metrics investigated. Trumbell specifically has had public safety rate increases that are greater than the state in all categories but for Suspended Licenses. Guernsey and Washington counties fall within the NLS category; both are seeing elevated Resisting Arrests and CVEs relative to changes in statewide rates. Surprisingly, Carroll County, home to 404 Utica permits as of the middle of May 2014, falls within the MLS category with only two of nine metrics increasing at a rate that exceeds the state’s. However, the two metrics that are worse than the state average (Crashes Investigated (+21.4%) and CVEs (59.8%)) are increasing at a rate that is significantly higher than the other Ohio Utica counties. Additional MLS counties include Belmont, Portage, and Monroe, which are in the upper, middle, and lower third of Utica permits at the present time.


While correlation does not mean causation, there is a significant correlation between certain public safety metrics and Utica permitting in Ohio’s primary shale gas counties, specifically when looking at Crashes Investigated and CVEs. Additionally, many of the Ohio Utica counties are experiencing notable increases in criminal activity. Whether this trend will continue to increase in the long-term is uncertain, but the short-term trends are concerning given that these counties populations are decreasing; there is more criminal activity within a smaller population. Finally, these trends will differ based on whether or not county sheriffs and emergency responders working with the Ohio State Highway Patrol have the necessary resources and manpower to address increasing criminal activity. This issue is of concern to most southeastern Ohioans regardless of their stance on fracking. We will continue to monitor these relationships and are working to generate a map in the coming months that illustrates these trends.

Table 1. Average percent change in select public safety metrics across Ohio’s primary Utica Shale Counties relative to parallel changes across the state of Ohio between 2009 and 2014.

Percent Change Between 2009 and 2014











Crashes Investigated


Misdemeanor Issued

Suspended License

Noble (93, 6)










Harrison (232, 0)










Belmont (102, 2)










Jefferson (39, 1)










Columbiana (103, 0)










Tuscarawas (16, 6)










Washington (10, 13)










Stark (13, 17)










Trumbull (15, 20)










Mahoning (30, 10)










Portage (15, 19)










Guernsey (99, 5)










Carroll (404, 4)










Monroe (80, 0)






























% of State 2009










% of State 2014










2014 annualized using the first 4 months of the year.

Number of Permitted Utica wells and Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) wells as of May, 2014

Geopolitics, Shale Gas, and Pipelines

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The “Why?”

Recently, the US has proposed to ship American shale gas abroad to buffer Europe’s 15-30% reliance on Russian gas imports in the face of the annexation of Crimea by Russia – and parallel 80% increases in LNG prices paid by Eastern Europeans to Russia’s Gazprom. The FracTracker map below illustrates all proposed and existing hydrocarbon pipelines across South America, Africa, Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Asia/Russia1. Creating such a map seems the least we could do given that this conflict has been called the “worst crisis with the West since the end of the Cold War.” The situation in Crimea is a chronic crisis; folks like Oxford University’s Jonathan Stern have suggested:

  1. Ukraine owes Gazprom $2 billion for already delivered hydrocarbons,
  2. Russia can easily turn their supplies to Japan which will pay a premium relative to what they are getting from the European Union, and
  3. The duration of European oil and gas contracts with Gazprom, which extend 15-35 years, can’t be broken (Einhorn, 2014; Henderson and Stern, 2014).

The rhetoric framing here in the US has been lead by – and regurgitated by media outlets such as NPR who suggested “Putin Could Send Europe Scrambling For Energy Sources” –  the likes of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass and the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Jones. Both of these entities have the ears of congress domestically and global decision makers at gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Gwertzman, 2014; Wade and Rascoe, 2014).

Stepping up hydrocarbon and extraction technologies is not universally espoused:

This is not an immediate-term solution. It’s not even an intermediate-term solution. – Paul Bledsoe, German Marshal Fund, in The New York Times

Fracking is unlikely to reduce gas prices to the extent its proponents desire. – London School of Economics (LSE) (Krauss, 2014; McDonnell, 2014)

Originally, shale gas production was proposed as a way for the US to become “energy independent,” but the dogma has rapidly and in a coordinated fashion shifted to the export of shale gas itself and the technology used to get it out of the ground. This rhetoric is now the focus not just of Washington, DC think tanks but academics (Bordoff, 2014) .

This is a graph depicting global CO2 emissions as a function of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (US$) across 204 countries CO2 emissions data were gathered from the United Nations Statistics Division ( and the US Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) (

Figure 1a) Global CO2 Per Capita Emissions (Tons) Vs Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (US $)

The above regions are ripe for – or currently experiencing – significant political uprisings from the Niger Delta and Venezuela to the percolating anger associated with increasing economic stratification and political elite disconnect in countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Mediterranean Africa writ large, Sudan, and Oman2. Often this discontent is emanating out of citizens’ concerns as to where oil revenues are going and how often the hydrocarbon largesse is concentrated in a handful of political elites and/or oligarchs (Nossiter, 2014). The EIA estimates Russia and China sit atop an estimated 107 billion barrels of shale oil and 1,400 TCF of shale gas. Much of this resource will be required if they are to continue > 2-5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. The remainder they will undoubtedly use as a cudgel to deflect the west’s suggestions and/or demands within their borders or their “near abroad.” In the case of Russia, the “near abroad” generally refers to the eight former Communist pliable nations – and are incidentally home to nontrivial shale oil and gas reserves – that act as a physical and ideological buffer between them and NATO/European Union states. In an effort to combat the asymmetric hydrocarbon supply and demand issues and secure access to the sizable shale reserves in eastern Europe, the European Union continues to push the European Neighborhood Policy meant to create a “ring of friends”3  – with Ukraine just the latest significant test and the only successes being Tunisia and Moldova (Charlemagne, 2014). With respect to China, their “near abroad” nations include shale oil and gas rich nations like Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, along with ex-Soviet region Central Asian countries which provide China with 80% of its natural gas needs. However, the east-west tug of war has come down to the willingness of the east to offer larger instant loans, cheaper gas, and labor/technology needed to develop pipeline networks. The nexus between these two eastern giants is the proposed – and recently agreed upon – $400 billion Sino-Russian energy cooperation natural gas and oil pipeline. This proposal will stretch across heretofore relatively undisturbed and isolated communities and the ecosystems they have evolved with across the Eurasian Steppe and Siberia (Einhorn, 2014).

This is a graph depicting global CO2 emissions as a function of Oil Consumption Per day (Barrels) across 204 countries CO2 emissions data were gathered from the United Nations Statistics Division ( and the US Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) ( Oil consumption data drawn from EnerDatas' World Energy Statistics "Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2013" (

Figure 1b) Global CO2 Per Capita Emissions (Tons) Vs Oil Consumption Per Day (Barrels) across 204 countries

The fomenting anger and geopolitical combativeness that result from these conditions put the global hydrocarbon transport network at risk. Analogies to R.A. Radford’s The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp can be made here, where the economy that Mr. Radford created flourished until the input stream from the Red Cross stopped. It was at this time that the economy collapsed due to its singular reliance on one input source. Similar analogies exist across emerging, P5+1, and frontier markets worldwide, with many countries largely dependent upon hydrocarbon imports or exports to stoke GDP. Such imports, along with oil consumption, account for 98% of per country CO2 emissions (Table 1 below, Figure 1a-b).  Revolution or even temporary and targeted political instability will fuel the type of hydrocarbon transport/production disruption that will produce the kind of jump condition described by Mr. Radford. A jump condition occurs in situations when suitable hydrocarbon stocks/flows are lost, pipelines are turned off, and alternative transport channels are deemed too perilous. Such a crisis is one that no industrialized or industrializing nation is prepared to manage, making the 2007-08 Financial Crisis look and feel like child’s play. Thus, many private and state actors are proposing new and expanded hydrocarbon pipeline networks to reduce reliance on single-large networks emanating from or traveling through volatile regions. Proposals range from the large Nabucco pipeline proposal connecting Asia and Europe or the Nord Stream AG Baltic Sea Gas Pipeline to small regional or inter-state proposals in Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Eastern Europe.

The “When?”

With this map, which was initiated in January 2014, we have attempted to accurately quantify as many existing and proposed pipeline routes as possible in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and the Persian Gulf.  We will be updating this map periodically, and it should be noted that all layers are predetermined aggregations of regional pipelines. Given the recent EIA global shale oil and gas estimates, it is only a matter of time before: a) European nations like Germany, Ukraine, Poland, and Romania begin to explore shale gas extraction in the name of “energy independence,” and b) Argentina hands over the proverbial keys to its 16.2-22.5 billion barrels of oil in the Vaca Muerta shale basin to the likes of Shell or Repsol-YPF (Canty, 2011; Gonzalez and Cancel, 2013; Romero and Krauss, 2013; Staff, 2013). This conversation will be accompanied by additional pipeline proposals for inter- and intra-region transport, all of which we will incorporate into this map on a quarterly basis. If you know of proposals that are not currently shown on the map, please let us know.

Table 1. Major Worldwide Flows of Oil (Thousand Barrels Per Day).


Production (a)

Consumption (b)




Saudi Arabia





United States













































































South Korea









United Kingdom























Compiled from U.S. Energy Information Administration World Overview (


Bordoff, J., 2014. Adding Fuel to the Fire: How the American shale gas boom can weaken Russia’s hand in Ukraine, Foreign Policy Magazine, Washington, DC.

Canty, D., 2011. Repsol hails largest ever 927 million bbl oil find, ITP Business Portal.

Charlemagne, 2014. How to be good neighbours: Ukraine is the biggest test of the EU’s policy towards countries on its borderlands, The Economist, London, UK.

Einhorn, B., 2014. How the Ukraine Crisis Could Help Clear Beijing’s Smog, Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg LP, New York, NY.

Gonzalez, P., Cancel, D., 2013. Shell to Triple Argentine Shale Spending as Winds Change, Bloomberg Magazine. Bloomberg LP, New York, NY.

Gwertzman, B., 2014. How to respond to Ukraine’s Crisis, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC.

Henderson, J., Stern, J., 2014. The Potential Impact on Asia Gas Markets of Russia’s Eastern Gas Strategy, Oxford Energy Comment. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford, UK, p. 13.

Klein, N., 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador.

Klein, N., 2014. Why US Fracking Companies Are Licking Their Lips Over Ukraine: From climate change to Crimea, the natural gas industry is supreme at exploiting crisis for private gain – what I call the shock doctrine, The Guardian, London, UK.

Krauss, C., 2014. U.S. Gas Tantalizes Europe, but It’s Not a Quick Fix, The New York Times, New York, NY.

McDonnell, A., 2014. Fracking is unlikely to reduce gas prices to the extent its proponents desire, The London School of Economics and Political Science – British Politics and Policy. The London School of Economics, London, UK.

Nossiter, A., 2014. Nigerians Ask Why Oil Funds Are Missing, The New York Times, New York, NY.

Romero, S., Krauss, C., 2013. An Odd Alliance in Patagonia, The New York Times, New York, NY.

Staff, 2013. Argentina’s YPF: Swallowed Pride, The Economist, London, UK.

Wade, T., Rascoe, A., 2014. Global gas trade may soften foreign policy of Russia, China, Reuters, New York, NY.

[2]  The EIA estimates Mediterranean Africa contains 5,772 TCF of estimated wet shale natural gas and 1,373,770 million barrels of oil, the Former Soviet Union 4,738 TCF and 310,567 million barrels, and South America 2,465 TCF and 643,864 million barrels 73% of which is in Brazil and Argentina’s Vaca Muerta.

[3] According to The Economist “The Europeans should also rethink the neighbourhood policy, which lumps together disparate countries merely because they happen to be nearby. In the south it may have to devise a wider concept of its interests stretching out to the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Here Europe has no real friends, lots of acquaintances and not a few enemies. To the east it needs better ways of helping those who want to move closer to the EU.”

Oil Drilling’s Impact on ND Communities

By Thomas DiPaolo, 2013 GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance

ND Shale Viewer

ND Shale Viewer

Out of North Dakota’s 53 counties, 19 are responsible for producing the oil and natural gas that has brought the state so much prosperity and attention. It’s the latest get-rich-quick scheme, and one that works better than that name would suggest: drive to North Dakota, work in the oil fields for six months, and go home with enough money to find something more permanent. This means that some of the quiet towns overlying the Bakken formation are exploding in size, and many of their new residents lack any connection to these communities when they’re off duty. In the past, similar population booms have been tied to a corresponding increase in crime rates and drug usage, and FracTracker Alliance has examined the available data to find out how much life has changed in North Dakota since the oil started to flow.

Housing Availability

There’s a reason why the you have to drive to North Dakota if you want to stay in the black, and it helps if you’ve got a comfortable car.

Perhaps the biggest problem here, perhaps a cause of others, is that there is simply not enough housing for everyone who wants to work in North Dakota. Trailer parks pack every available inch of space for families from out of state prepared to settle in, becoming themselves towns in miniature, and one of the benefits to consider when working for one oil drilling company over another is to find out which ones are constructing dedicated worker housing and amenities. Familiarity doesn’t fail to breed contempt; demand for living space is so high, in fact, that families who have lived in these towns their whole lives are being forced out as rent prices rise without end. Meanwhile, many have taken to simply sleeping in their cars, and tensions have grown as stores forbid them from parking overnight in their lots.


With the number of people moving into the state to work in the oil fields, or in industries that support them, North Dakota’s population reached 699,628 in 2012, a jump from the 642,200 people of 2000. More people, of course, means greater effort required to keep the peace – The number of law enforcement officers accordingly jumped from 967 in 2000 to 1,253 in 2012. At first glance, one might think that did the job, since the crime rate fell from 2,203 index crimes1 reported per 100,000 people to 2,122 per 100,000 people, and the number of arrests per officer stayed constant (3.1 in 2000, 3.0 in 2012). That conclusion doesn’t hold up well when you look at how crime has fluctuated within the oil-producing counties.2 The population there has risen to 183,940 people, from just 167,515 people in 2000, and it currently employs 379 law enforcement officers, up from 250 officers. In 2000 the crime rate was already in excess of the state average at 1,582 index crimes reported per 100,000 people and 8.3 arrests per law enforcement officer. By 2012, those figures reached 1,629 crimes per 100,000 people and 12.8 arrests per officer. With only a quarter of the state’s population, the crime rate is three-quarters of the state average. This upswell applies especially to violent crimes. Violent crime reports, numbered at 558 statewide in 2000, nearly tripled to 1,445 in 2012; in the oil counties, they more than tripled from 103 to 363 crimes reported. That number carries through in the crime rate figures; statewide, 206.5 violent crimes occurred per 100,000 people in 2012, while only 86.9 crimes were reported per 100,000 people in 2000; in the oil counties, 197.3 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 people in 2012, compared to only 61.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2000. See Table 1 for a comparison of total and violent crimes between the year 2000 and the year 2012.

Table 1. Crime rates per 100,000 people in North Dakota (2000 vs. 2012)

Total Index Crimes Violent Crimes
Statewide Oil Counties Statewide Oil Counties
2000 2,203 1,582 86.9 61.5
2012 2,122 1,629 206.5 197.3

Where the line blurs is in addressing property crime. Until 2009, there had been a steady decline in the rate of property crime. Since then, however, it has been increasing every year, even if the 2012 figures are still beneath those of 2000. Statewide, the number of property crimes hovered at 13,592 reported crimes in 2000 and 13,402 in 2012, while in the oil counties they rose slightly from 2,547 property crimes in 2000 to 2,634 crimes in 2012. At the same time, the property crime rates fell both statewide (2,116 crimes per 100,000 people to 1,916 per 100,000 people) and in the oil counties (1,529 crimes per 100,000 people to 1,486 per 1000,000 people).


When you have that many single young men together, as so many of the oil field workers are, a market inevitably springs up for very particular crimes. Prostitution stings consume a greater quantity of police time than ever before, with some ND counties reporting their first prostitution arrests ever. In many cases, the suspects in these cases demonstrate a similar attitude to the oil workers they court: stay for a brief period (typically days rather than months), make enough money to support themselves, and keep going out of town. Officers often say that these cases are risky, as they require enough evidence to prove the intent of both parties to exchange money for sex. Without an undercover officer to carry out a sting, many cases could be accused of discrimination, especially in cases where race may be an issue. In other situations, sting operations have provided evidence of drug activity in addition to prostitution.

Drug Use

Juvenile Alcohol Use

In addition to the oil boom, North Dakota has the uncomfortable claim of being one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to binge drinking. It’s notable then to see that, while juvenile3 alcohol use has fallen drastically across the board, juveniles are developing more permissive attitudes towards alcohol use. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of juveniles who reported using alcohol within the previous month fell from 18,000 to 7,000, and it fell from 11,000 to 4,000 juveniles in regards to binge drinking4 on a weekly basis. At the same time, the number of juveniles showing signs of alcohol dependence or abuse fell from 6,000 to 2,000, and those described as needing but not receiving treatment for alcohol abuse fell from 5,000 to 2,000. Yet only 17,000 juveniles reported perceiving great risk from said binge drinking in 2011, where 22,000 had reported perceiving great risk in 2000. Why are more juveniles rejecting personal alcohol use while becoming less concerned with others’ usage?

Adult Drug & Alcohol Use

Whatever the reason, adult alcohol usage has demonstrated the opposite trend: more people are drinking but fewer enjoy it. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of adults using alcohol monthly rose from 286,000 to 320,000, and those binge drinking weekly rose from 144,000 to 165,000. The number of adults perceiving great risk from weekly binge drinking also rose from 173,000 to 183,000, but the number with signs of alcohol dependence or abuse rose from 33,000 to 47,000. Interestingly, the number of adults described as needing but not receiving treatment for alcohol use has barely changed in this time; 46,000 adults were characterized this way in 2000, as opposed to 45,000 of them in 2011.

Smoking and Marijuana Use

The one trend shared between both juveniles and adults is a steady increase in the number of people expressing permissive attitudes towards the use of marijuana. In 2000, 4,000 juveniles and 13,000 adults reported using marijuana within the previous month; by 2011, only 2,000 juveniles reported using marijuana within the previous month, but the number of adults doing so had jumped to 23,000. At that time, only 17,000 juveniles and 171,000 adults reported perceiving great risk from the use of marijuana on a monthly basis, down from 25,000 and 213,000 respectively in 2000. These figures come at a time when other forms of smoking are becoming less popular across the U.S. In 2000 in ND, 16,000 juveniles were using tobacco products on a monthly basis, and 13,000 were using cigarettes specifically; those numbers had fallen to 6,000 and 5,000 juveniles respectively by 2000. Even among adults there were small declines over this time period: 154,000 adults were using tobacco monthly in 2011 as opposed to 161,000 in 2000, and 121,000 adults as opposed to 128,000 were using cigarettes. And while the number of juveniles perceiving great risk from pack-a-day smoking fell from 38,000 to 32,000 between 2000 and 2011, while 346,000 adults perceived great risk from it in 2011, as opposed to 315,000 in 2000.


  1. According to the Crime and Homicide Reports of the North Dakota Attorney General’s office, index crimes are reported to the National Uniform Crime Reporting program managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to broadly describe the level of criminal activity around the country. They are divided into two categories, violent and property-related. The violent index crimes tracked by North Dakota are murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The property index crimes tracked by the state are burglary, larceny and theft, and motor vehicle theft.
  2. The North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties lists the following counties as its members: Adams, Billings, Bottineau, Bowman, Burke, Divide, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, McHenry, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Mountrail, Renville, Slope, Stark, Ward, and Williams.
  3. The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health define a “juvenile” as any person between the ages of 12 and 17 years, and an adult as any person aged 18 years or older.
  4. The National Surveys on Drug Use and Health define “binge drinking” as consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting.