In 1850, near the beginning of the California Gold Rush, the female population was perilously low in Northern California. In mining counties, they made up less than 2% of overall inhabitants. According to Sierra Foothills Magazine, one man wrote at the time: “Got nearer to a woman this evening than I have been in six months. Came near fainting.”
It wasn’t long before women from all over the world began flocking to California in hopes of making some quick cash as sex workers. This was a situation ripe for STDs–men without long-term partners present having sex with all the same women. But this situation wasn’t unique to the Gold Rush.
Natural resource booms are generally accompanied by a wave of male workers who turn to prostitutes in the absence of a dating scene or their partners back home. And guess what: Today’s natural gas boom isn’t any different. If you live in a county where fracking is happening, there are probably a whole lot more STD-ridden people wandering around than in non-fracked areas, according to a new study. Keep those antibiotics handy.
In the “Social Costs of Fracking: A Pennsylvania Case Study,” the environmental group Food and Water Watch examines the social impact of fracking–an efficient but dirty process used to extract natural gas from the ground–in rural Pennsylvania counties, which are the epicenter of the growing fracking industry. Between 2005 and 2011, 5,000 shale gas wells were drilled in the state. As a not-so-obvious result, gonorrhea and chlamydia is now running rampant.
Food and Water Watch found that the average yearly number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases rose by 32.4% in heavily fracked Pennsylvania counties between 2005 and 2010, while unfracked counties saw an uptick of just 20.1%. Once fracking began during these years, the number of cases rose an average of 8% per year in heavily fracked counties–and just 3.8% in unfracked counties.
While there’s no proof that fracking is actually causing the rise in STD rates, the study documents the correlation: “The increase in the average annual number of cases of sexually transmitted infections was greater in heavily fracked rural counties than in unfracked rural counties,” it says.
There are plenty of other social costs to fracking, such as increased disorderly conduct arrests and heavy truck crashes, but few things inspire fear in the heart of sexually active Americans like the threat of rampant STDs. So here’s a suggestion: Instead of warning people away from fracking with threats of environmental destruction (boring, right?), tell them instead that hydraulic fracturing will bring chlamydia to their doorstep.