The Ithaca Police Department is hesitant to assume that fracking within the City would automatically increase crime, but, according to Deputy Chief John Barber, officers are prepared to handle any possible outcome.
“Well I think there’s always a concern,” Barber said. “But if problems arise as a result of it, we’ll deal with it just like we do any other problems that come up.”
Fracking, an extraction process that pumps sand, water and chemicals into the ground to release natural gas trapped underground in rock fractures, has been a topic of debate due to its environmental concerns.
In a unanimous vote on Nov. 2, the City of Ithaca’s Common Council banned the leasing of city land for the purposes of fracking. However, surrounding areas may still allow gas companies to drill, bringing workers into the area.
The small borough of Wellsboro, Pa., located just beyond the New York border, has seen a significant increase in alcohol-related crime, according to Police Chief Jim Bodine. Traffic violations, DUIs, bar fights and public intoxication incidents have all been on the rise. The perpetrators are often those well workers brought in by the drilling companies and their subcontractors.
“There’s been a heavy, heavy influx of people from out of the state, out of the area,” Bodine said. “We’ve seen a lot of those folks get into trouble.”
The fracking process requires a large number of workers to operate equipment, lay pipeline, drive trucks and other jobs. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, drilling has created 72,000 jobs with an average annual wage at about $73,000.
Erick Coolidge, one of three members of the Tioga County, Pa., Board of Commissioners, said drilling workers have hard workweeks and disposable incomes, and some are acting out.
“Twelve days on, twelve days off and a lot of money in your pocket,” Coolidge said.
While the popular perception of a well-worker is a young male, the demographic of these perpetrators is not just men.
“We do have a lot of females that are in the area that are also working with pipeline laying industry, welding pipe and so forth,” Bodine said. “We’re starting to see a few females with DUIs and what not.”
Bodine said Wellsboro can feel the fracking presence beyond the increase in crime.
“The traffic says it all,” he said. “The dramatic increase in our traffic activity here, trying to get around town frustrates a lot of people because we’re no longer a small town. It has a direct connection with the activity that’s going on around here with the well-drilling industry.”
There is concern that the drastic increase in population, traffic and crime due to the drilling industry will overwhelm small town police departments. Bodine said his department’s police committee holds meetings to discuss numbers and ensure that they’re ahead of the curve.
“But, a lot of the smaller communities are already strapped,” he said. “They don’t have the help coming in, monetary wise, to hire new officers, new roadway workers.”
Coolidge said he and other county officials are working on gathering concrete information about the cost of the influx of workers. Once this impact fee is determined, funds will be distributed as the state’s legislature advises, he said.
Funding is a valid concern for any police department, Barber said, potentially even including the City of Ithaca’s.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said. “If and when we get to it.”