Appalachian Basin

Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Development Helps Economically Depressed Communities

Researchers from Clark University recently released a study claiming that economically depressed communities tend to host shale development more often than richer communities – but, for some strange reason, only in Pennsylvania. From the report:

“Our analysis shows that environmental injustice was observed only in Pennsylvania, particularly with respect to poverty: in seven out of nine analyses, potentially exposed tracts had significantly higher percent of people below poverty level than non-exposed tracts.” (Pg. 171)

While this report tries makes a clear effort to malign the oil and gas industry, it fails to provide context as to why well sites are typically located in these communities.

DEP setback regulations

According to the Department of Environmental Protection:

“Act 13 extends the setback distance for unconventional wells from 200 feet to 500 feet from existing buildings or water wells, unless consented to by the owner of the building or water well. This Act establishes a 1,000-foot setback for an unconventional well from a water supply extraction point used by a water purveyor, unless written consent is obtained from the water purveyor. (Emphasis added)

Act 13 also extends the setback distance for unconventional wells from 100 feet to 300 feet from any solid blue lined stream, spring, or body of water or wetland greater than one acre in size as identified on the most recent 7 ½ minute topographic quadrangle map of the United States Geological Survey. Unconventional well site pads must also maintain a setback of 100 feet between the edge of disturbance and any stream, spring, body of water or wetland greater than one acre in size.” (emphasis added)

Because of these setback requirements, rural areas of Pennsylvania have become ideal places to develop our shale resources.

Rural Pennsylvania economy

Typically, rural parts of Pennsylvania tend to be home to generational farming families. These hardworking farmers have to struggle with commodity prices to make ends meet. For example, back in 2009 the price of milk crashed 35 percent, forcing some U.S. dairy farmers out of business. This puts an economic strain on these households especially when the farmers in Pennsylvania make an average of $22,930, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With such low average wages farming families can fall below the poverty line depending on how big their family is.

Oil & Gas Industry Helps economically depressed rural Pennsylvania

With the expansion of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry, benefits have come to economically depressed communities that residents never thought they would see. Oil and gas lease bonuses and royalty payments to farmers have allowed them to invest in new equipment and pay off old debts so they have the ability to keep their farms for generations to come. Watch the following video to hear testimonies from Pennsylvania farming families:

Impact fee revenue has also been a blessing for these communities. According to Elk County board members:

“The availability of Marcellus Shale gas (Act 13) funds has been a source of revenue that has been discretionally used to the taxpayers’ benefit… and thus has aided what otherwise would be budget shortfalls.”

This new revenue from oil and gas companies has equated to more than $680 million since its inception in 2012 and is being used to fund projects that would have normally been a burden on taxpayers in these communities. These savings can now help Pennsylvania farmers continue farming and make their lives just a little easier.


This Clark University study tried to assert that oil and gas development only takes place in economically depressed communities. But the facts show that the oil and gas industry has helped strengthen communities across the Commonwealth and the United States. That’s true environmental justice.

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