Unconventional risks: The experience of acute energy development in the Eagle Ford Shale


Colter Ellis, Gene L. Theodori, Peggy Petrzelka, Douglas Jackson-Smitm, A.E. Luloff


Energy Research & Social Science


Many rural communities are facing complicated risks resulting from unconventional oil and gas development and hydraulic fracturing. This study focuses on residents’ experiences of risk and the factors limiting local leader’s efforts to protect residents. Data for this research were obtained through interviews with community leaders, industry officials, and focus groups with private citizens. Data collection occurred in four counties in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas. Study participants shared examples of how their lives were impacted by increased truck traffic, food and housing insecurity, flaring of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, and concerns about water contamination. Community leaders confront a tension between supporting economic growth and development associated with energy development, and managing these negative social and environmental outcomes. We identify three significant factors that weaken the power and limit the ability of local governments to effectively advocate for their communities. First, rural communities lack the staffing, expertise, and financial resources to properly cope with development. Second, the rural geography makes it difficult for local governments to work collaboratively across political borders. Third, the dominant conservative political values make it difficult for local leaders to advocate for increases in regional, state, or federal regulation.



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