The Product Of An Oil Boom: Violence, Addiction, And STDs


An oil boom is short-term and transient. Crews of outsiders and heavy equipment plop down in often-rural areas to suck out all the fuel they can as quickly as possible, then leave.

And while fracking’s disastrous effects on climate change and health are well-established, its social effects on the people and communities around drilling operations is less-discussed. But several recent studies on the social consequences of fracking show that the same disregard for consequences applies to the social well-being of workers and communities that turn into fracking boomtowns.

Oil drilling’s attitude towards people is much the same as it is toward the climate: protecting them is a burden that prevents the cheapest possible extraction and sale of fuel. That’s why it is no surprise that Peter Rugh, writing for Vice, finds fracking operations are connected with violence against women, sexually transmitted disease, and drug use.

The thousands of fracking wells operating in the Bakken, producing more than 660,000 barrels of crude oil a day, require thousands of workers, drawn from across the country, separated from any existing social connection. Most of them are men, “80 guys for every woman,” according to an industry veteran quoted in Vice.

Prostitution and strip clubs have appeared around these “man camps” to capitalize off of the gender imbalance, but the gender imbalance is putting women in danger as well. A Department of Justice report is in progress to examine the impact of oil industry camps on “domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” Susan Connell, a truck driver in North Dakota’s Bakken, said in a National Geographic profile that she needs to carry around a metal rod as a weapon to fend off assault in the “testosterone cloud” of the oil towns.

A Food and Water Watch report found that the social problems caused by fracking extend to increased heavy truck crashes, as small-town infrastructure is overtaxed by heavy hauling traffic. And the imported workforces bring increased sexually transmitted infections and arrests for social disorder violations. And that’s not to mention the basic danger of the work: the fatality rate of oil and gas workers is staggeringly high.

Meth use has grown in highly-fracked areas as well, likely in response to often-grueling working hours and the lack of entertainment options and social ties.

Drilling companies could invest in mitigating these costs, but that would run contrary to the logic of the boomtown. Companies have no long-term commitment to their workers or the towns where they set up drilling operations, so there’s no reason to spend the money on entertainment options, violence prevention, health screenings, or infrastructure improvements that could potentially make a difference. They treat harm to towns and workers like they do climate change – it’s somebody else’s problem, and addressing it would just get in the way of the pursuit of profit.