The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence is concerned southern Illinois is unprepared for the social costs of a potential fracking boom. Most attention is given to the environmental consequences of fracking, but a Pennsylvania study by Food & Water Watch is bringing focus to social impacts on rural areas. Arrests for nuisance crimes, drug use and sexually transmitted disease rates went up disproportionately in fracking regions.
I spoke with ILCADV's executive director, Vickie Smith, who says that law enforcement and social service agencies in fracking areas, such as North Dakota and Montana, have struggled with increases in domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes that come with fracking booms.
Dickinson, N.D., for example, saw a 300 percent increase in assault and sex offense cases. The sheriff of Williams County, N.D., saw crime spike so sharply in three years he was forced to double the number of patrol deputies. The mayor of Sydney, Mont., became so concerned about rising violent crime, including a murder, after the fracking boom hit, he held a town meeting where women were offered tae kwon do classes and pepper spray.
It's not surprising. The industry brings a large number of men to work dangerous, high-pressure jobs in rural areas where they have little to do and few connections outside the workplace.
Smith says there are only eight domestic violence programs serving southern Illinois, with three of those in the metro-east St. Louis region. Most of those offer safe houses but not shelters. Southeastern Illinois, where most fracking is likely to occur, has only one domestic violence program and no sexual assault programs.
One challenge for southern Illinois counties is that any tax revenue resulting from fracking won't be available to prepare communities in advance. Trucks will roll in before new tax revenue can be used for road improvements, law enforcement, emergency preparedness, utility infrastructure, and other public services. Permitting fees collected by the Department of Natural Resources will help with environmental oversight but not other community needs. Crime rates and other social impacts will rise suddenly before local governments are ready to respond.
Illinois needs another way to fund community infrastructure in rural areas, including domestic violence and sexual assault services, before the fracking boom begins. Tae kwon do classes and pepper spray won't cut it.