Marcellus Shale gas boom has uneven results for schools

For the past five years, Pennsylvania residents have been regaled with predictions of new-found wealth that the Marcellus Shale gas boom would produce, and for some individuals these predictions have become reality.

For the 49 career and technology centers (CTCs) and 309 K-12 school districts within the Marcellus footprint, however, the outcomes have been more uneven.

Kai Schafft, associate professor of education, along with colleagues in rural sociology, conducted a survey of school district administrators in all the public school districts in the Marcellus region, and conducted follow-up group interviews in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier — an area among the most heavily affected by Marcellus drilling. The study, “Educational Administrator Perspectives on Boomtown Impacts within Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region” will be published in an upcoming issue of Society & Natural Resources.

“CTCs are booming. They’ve gotten lots of attention from the industry, and from Pennsylvania students and residents interested in retooling their skills to match the requirements of the gas industry,” Schafft stated.

However, this work revealed that while the development of Marcellus Shale has significantly changed the focus and activity of CTCs, shale gas development hasn’t necessarily resulted in benefits for Pennsylvania school districts. Further, while school district respondents in areas with high drilling activity report significant local economic activity, they report that little, if any, benefit accruing back to schools.

To the contrary, it has triggered a variety of related concerns in some districts—particularly for those in the closest proximity to drilling activity:

  • Problems with road congestion, damage, and repair, and schedules as well as public safety,
  • Significantly tightened housing markets, dramatic increases in housing rental costs, and increased residential insecurity and homelessness,
  • Concerns regarding water quality, and especially in cases in which district buildings rely on well water,
  •  Concerns regarding recruitment and retention of key staff (e.g., bus drivers) when district salaries can neither keep pace with nor match gas industry-related salaries.

To share research findings and discuss the implications with local educators and community stakeholders the Center on Rural Education and Communities, in collaboration with The Pennsylvania School Studies Council, held a one-day Marcellus conference in March 2012 to focus on unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania. Titled "Understanding & Preparing for Marcellus Shale Impacts in Your School District," the conference attracted more than 100 participants from Pennsylvania school districts, with other attendees from New York and Ohio.

“’Vo-tech’ is no longer perceived as an educational ‘second-class citizen,’ but rather as a means of acquiring high-paid gas industry jobs associated with industry build-out,” Schafft stated. “However, the opportunities associated with new Marcellus-related job opportunities need to be balanced against the relative uncertainty and volatility within the gas industry as well as the longevity of jobs associated with the initial build-out.”

“A pressing — and difficult — question,” Schafft said, “is how the shorter term economic boom of Marcellus development can be strategically managed so that Pennsylvania schools and communities can maximize their opportunities for long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability.”

Schafft and his colleagues are continuing work in this area through a new research project funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania in which they are documenting the multiple social, institutional and economic impacts of Marcellus Shale gas development.

Contacts: 
Last Updated July 15, 2013