Mountain States

New Analysis Contradicts Anti-Fracking Activists; Finds School Enrollment in Bakken Increasing

A new analysis by Resources for the Future (RFF) is shedding light on how North Dakota school enrollment rose alongside shale development, contradicting ban-fracking activists who have been pushing claim that fracking increases dropout rates. As Resources for the Future (RFF) reports:

Most school administrators in North Dakota said they did not see a spike in high school dropout rates during the shale boom; others reported a potentially small increase. Generally, there was agreement that this dropout trend differed from the oil boom of the 1980s. Many explained that, in contrast to the 1980s, today’s shale development requires a higher skill set for field workers. Others referenced a policy that discourages hiring workers without a diploma or a GED.” (emphasis added)

As EID had previously reported, activists were using a non-peer reviewed working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research to argue that dropouts were increasing in the Bakken due to fracking.  Even though that working paper suffered from a number of issues, it didn’t not stop media outlets from generating headlines that would leave people believing that high school students were abandoning their education in droves to work in the oil and natural gas industry.

The RFF post previews ongoing research into the impacts shale development has had on public education across multiple states. While that project is not yet completed, it appears from this latest post that shale development, with some exceptions, has had a largely positive impact on education in North Dakota. Also from RFF:

“Although further analysis is needed to determine the effect of the oil boom on high school dropout rates, the occurrence of rapid elementary student growth and high mobility rates in elementary-aged students is additive to the historic literature. Teachers and administrators noted some positives from increased diversity and growth within the student body. However, rapid student in-migration also raises concerns regarding classroom and curriculum disruption, teacher fatigue, and long-term educational attainment, particularly for highly mobile students.”

It has been well documented that shale development is an economic driver. For example, one recent report shows that oil and gas development has contributed billions to Colorado’s economy, creating benefits that researchers concluded “impact every citizen in the state.” Colorado’s schools were among the largest beneficiaries. Researchers concluded that in 2014, royalties generated from production on state lands contributed more than $178 million to schools. As the report details:

“The largest beneficiaries of State Land Board Trust distributions in fiscal year 2014-15 included schools ($178 million), Colorado State University ($1 million), and State Parks and Wildlife ($0.5 million)”

In addition to delivering millions to public education in state like Colorado, it is also well documented that the oil and natural gas industry has been partnering with schools and colleges on training programs designed to provide current and prospective employees with the skills they need to be successful. There are multiple examples of college programstechnical schools, and high school vocational programs that will allow them to either acquire or expand on the skills needed to work in the industry.

Simply put, anti-fracking activists attempting to spin shale development as bad for education seem to be running out of ideas.

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