Fracking and public health: Evidence from gonorrhea incidence in the Marcellus Shale region

The United States (US) began to experience a boom in natural gas production in the 2000s due to the advent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling technology. While the natural gas boom affected many people through lower energy prices, the strongest effects were concentrated in smaller communities where the fracking occurred. We analyze one potential cost to communities where fracking takes place: an increase of sexually transmitted diseases. We use a quasi-natural experiment within the Marcellus shale region plus panel data estimation techniques to quantify the impact of fracking activity on local gonorrhea incidences. We found fracking activity to be associated with an increase in gonorrhea. Our findings may be useful to public health officials. To make informed decisions about resource extraction, policy makers as well as regulators and communities need to be informed of all the benefits as well as the costs.

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