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Psychosocial implications of unconventional natural gas development: Quality of life in Ohio’s Guernsey and Noble Counties

Psychosocial implications of unconventional natural gas development: Quality of life in Ohio’s Guernsey and Noble Counties

As unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) activities such as “fracking” have proliferated across
the U.S., research has begun to examine their impacts on human life. Much scholarship has centered on
possible health and environmental impacts. However, a range of plausible psychosocial impacts has
begun to emerge. Utilizing grounded theory methods and data from qualitative interviews with residents
of two counties in Appalachian Eastern Ohio (Guernsey and Noble), we examined the quality of life (QoL)
impacts on residents, who live and work amid UNGD. QoL impacts were reported in five core categories,
specifically psychological stress, social stress, environment, physical health, and traffic. Psychological
stress was a particularly salient theme, as residents living near UNGD found themselves anxious about
the uncertainties of fracking; frustrated by interactions with oil and gas industry officials; stressed about
noise or light pollution; and, in some instances, facing the possibility of moving from the region.
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Excerpt —

3. Results

Participants reported several changes to their QoL since the
introduction of UNGD. Comments fell into one of five core categories:
psychological stress, social stress, environment, physical
health, and traffic. Subcategories or themes were established within
each core category. All interviewees expressed impacts from one or
more of the QoL factors listed in Table 2. A majority reported impacts
in three or more of the five core categories. Economic issues
were also evident in our data but are not addressed in this paper
since economics, per se, are typically defined as “standard of living”
and not included in QoL frameworks (World Health Organization,
1997). Likewise, our data reflected perceived increases in crime
such as illicit drug use, but these findings are not described here
since few interviewees were directly impacted by such activity.

Table 3 specifies the number of interviewees reporting one or
more QoL impacts within the core categories and dichotomizes
these counts based on interviewees’ self-reported distance from
fracking activities (i.e., greater or less than five miles). This distance
was used since several participants lived in a town which is
approximately five miles from the nearest fracking well. Thus, this
distinction serves to differentiate the town’s residents and others
living outside of the immediate range of UNGD activity from those
living in closer proximity. As illustrated, psychological stress,
environmental impacts, and physical health impacts were reported
M.P. Fisher et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 55 (2018) 90e98 91
more commonly by interviewees living within five miles of UNGD
activity. However, these apparent differences were not tested for
statistical significance and should be considered with limitation.
While the data are useful for hypothesizing about the role of
proximity in resident QoL, the key strength of our findings lies in
the rich description of resident experiences of QoL, as described

3.1. Psychological stress

Several residents reported psychological stress because of
UNGD. Psychological stress is defined as pressure due to daily life or
sudden negative changes in life (National Institute of Mental
Health, 2016). Several residents viewed UNGD activity as a sudden
negative change. Stress related to UNGD was categorized into
four emergent themes: experiencing general stress and uncertainty
about the future; feeling frustrated and manipulated after interactions
with the oil and gas industry; enduring noise or light
pollution; and displacement from the region.

3.1.1. Experiencing general stress and uncertainty about the future

Several residents expressed a general sense of stress and uncertainty
because of UNGD. For example: “I’m stressed,” “Our lives
are in such turmoil,” and “It’s like a slow dying death.” A small
handful of residents had experienced a psychological toll on their
entire family. For example: “We all sat around and were crying
about it, literally.” For many residents, stress was related to uncertainty
about the future; they worried about not having unpolluted
land and water to pass down to their children. Some residents
regularly avoided the topic of UNGD to escape feelings of distress.

3.1.2. Feeling frustrated and manipulated after interactions with the
oil and gas industry

Several participants felt frustrated with oil and gas industry
officials. Many such grievances were related to officials pressuring
residents into signing oil and gas leases, ratifying old contracts, or
unitizing. The latter reflects a provision in certain states’ laws that
can force landowners who are reluctant to lease their mineral
rights to become part of a “unit,” thus enabling legal drilling
beneath a non-consenting landowner’s property (O’Reilly, 2015).
For example, one resident noted: “We held out [on signing] until
the very end, and then when they threatened to unitize or force
pool us, this is what they said ‘We’ll just force you.’” Further, residents
described a number of manipulation tactics used by the industry,
including playing to residents’ fears (e.g., of passing up
financial opportunity), lying or misleading, and offering residents
jobs as a condition of lease signing.

Many residents were also frustrated after lease signing. Some
were not fully informed of the details of UNGD activities on or near
their property. For example: “That one well over here is supposed to
Fig. 1. Map highlighting Ohio’s Guernsey and Noble Counties.
M.P. 92 Fisher et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 55 (2018) 90e98
be coming under [several] acres of my property right now… But
that’s all I’ve heard about that. And I just don’t know what’s going
on.” Other residents had not received payment for oil and gas leases
or pipeline contracts in a timely manner, nor had they received
clear explanation of why they had (or had not) received certain
royalties. Frustrated, a handful of residents dreaded interacting
with oil and gas industry representatives and regularly attempted
to avoid them.

Further, several residents expressed having lost confidence in
government officials for not helping to protect them from industry
manipulation and QoL impacts associated with UNGD. Frustrations
centered on local government organizations, the Ohio Department
of Natural Resources, state and federal Environmental Protection
Agencies, and other state and federal government leaders.

3.1.3. Enduring noise or light pollution

Many residents endured extreme noise associated with UNGD.
Much of the noise was related to loud trucks traveling to and from
UNGD sites or equipment at the sites. For example: “[There was]
constant dozer work, constant noise all the time.” Residents noted
that noise levels were particularly high during initial well drilling,
but that many sounds, and especially truck-related sounds,
continued after drilling. Some residents complained of having
trouble falling asleep or being awakened intermittently at night
because of UNGD-related noises, including semi-trucks “jake
braking” or equipment likened to the sound of drag racing or jet
engines. Such interruptions were at times compounded by dogs
barking in response to the noises.

Other residents were enduring more constant noises from
nearby compressor stations, which are large round-the-clock mechanical
structures built intermittently along natural gas pipelines
to ensure continuous forward movement of natural resources (U.S.
Energy Information Administration, 2016). For example: “By the
compressor station, which is a constant noise, I bought my home
out there. [There] is nobody where I live…[but] right now there’s a
rumble.” Additionally, some participants were concerned with
more intensive, though less frequent, noise and shaking from periodic
seismic testing. This procedure employs dynamite or sound
wave-inducing devices to create subsurface images and is
completed prior to oil and gas drilling (Bamberger & Oswald, 2014).

Residents also expressed discontent with light pollution from
UNGD. Fracking wells and compressor stations often involve roundthe-
clock work that requires intensive lighting. Light pollution was
less of a concern than noise and other QoL impacts, but still
registered as a nuisance.

3.1.4. Displacement from the region

A handful of interviewees were moving away from Guernsey or
Noble County at the time of interview and distinctly because of
UNGD. For example, one resident noted: “I’m taking down our little
cottage. It looks like the sale did go through…I don’t want to leave.
There are lots of memories here, lots of really good memories…
[but] you feel like you were forced out.” Likewise, a handful of other
residents were moving because of QoL issues ranging from excessive
noise to fears over environmental pollution. For example: “I
really don’twant to live here. I’m scared because we are surrounded
all over by big pipelines, small pipelines, all kinds of pipelines,
compressor stations. And [with] all these things something can go

Some residents with plans to move had factored economic
concerns into their decision-making. They feared an eventual
decline in real estate values due to decreased QoL and possible
environmental pollution. Most residents in the process of relocating
were moving to other regions with no UNGD. These residents
indicated that the QoL impacts of UNGD were greater than they had
initially anticipated. In addition to the handful of residents moving,
Fig. 2. Map of active or permitted horizontal drilling sites in Guernsey and Noble
Counties (October 2017).
Table 1
Interviewee demographics.
na (%)
Total residents interviewed 34
Age (range ¼ 19 to 83 years)
18e24 2 (6.5)
25e44 13 (41.9)
45e64 13 (41.9)
65 and over 3 (9.7)
Male 18 (52.9)
Female 16 (47.1)
Highest Level of Education
Less than high school 1 (3.2)
High school graduate or GED 6 (19.4)
Some college 9 (29.0)
College degree 13 (41.9)
Advanced degree 2 (6.5)
Housing Status
Own their home 21 (80.1)
Rent their home 5 (19.2)
Mineral rights leased for UNGD 11 (35.4)
a n ranges from 26 to 34 for different characteristics.
M.P. Fisher et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 55 (2018) 90e98 93
others expressed concern about the viability of the community for
future generations and had considered the possibility of moving.
However, many of these residents had strong generational ties to
the region and were reluctant to relocate.

3.2. Social stress

Several residents noted a change in the community’s social
fabric since the introduction of UNGD. These changes were a cause
for concern for many interviewees, and fell under three emergent
themes: families dividing, communities dividing, and conflicted
over a changing social fabric.

3.2.1. Families dividing

Several residents viewed a family member’s divergent
perspective on UNGD as damaging or threatening to their relationship.
Often, one person was supportive of fracking while
another opposed it. Such conflicts existed between husbands and
wives and children and parents. For example, one resident stated:
“It starts a lot of fights back around the dinner table.” Other residents
witnessed family conflict specifically over UNGD-related
financial issues: “Where the money has driven families apart…
It’s kind of sad. It all boils down to greed, and the parents aren’t
willing to share with the kids or vice versa.” Typically, residents
experiencing family conflict expressed discontent with the situation
and a silent lack of resolve.

3.2.2. Communities dividing

Other residents expressed conflict with friends and neighbors.
Interviewees who opposed UNGD often felt at odds with those who
supported it. For example, a resident who had not leased their land
conveyed an interpersonal struggle with a resident who had leased:
“[Others] kept saying ‘Oh they’ve leased, they’ve leased.’ And I go
‘No, they wouldn’t do that…No, they care about [the area].’…And I
found out they leased… You know, it totally wrecked our relationship.”
Some residents noted that others who had not leased
were sometimes accused of being greedy, presumably holding out
for better lease terms or incentives. Residents also noted that noncompete
clauses, which are typically mandated by the oil and gas
industry upon lease signing, silenced residents and alienated them
from friends and neighbors: “They separated people when they
came here… they make everybody sign a non-compete clause. So,
you’re not allowed to tell your neighbor who you signed with and
for how much. That’s all secret, or they’re going to sue you.” Other
residents experienced a more general sense of estrangement from
their community rather than specific conflict.

3.2.3. Conflicted over a changing social fabric

Several residents were concerned about the influx of transient
workers, many who reportedly came from other states. Indeed, the
oil and gas industry often brings thousands of workers to an area
for UNGD (Marcin, 2015). Some residents encountered these
workers in their daily lives, and many noted that they were
pleasant, courteous, and becoming a valued part of the community.
For example: “A lot of the people that come in, they’re very polite.
They give directions. They’re cool people.” And many businessowning
residents valued the workers’ disposable income that
could be spent at local shops, restaurants, and bars, and described
them as good tippers.

Despite often-positive sentiments, threads of potential social
conflictdin particular, feelings of distrust and trepidationdwere
salient. Some residents noticed out-of-state oil and gas workers
“showing off” inways that set them apart from locals. For example:
“They’re big drinkers, and they’re big spenders, and they want to
show their money off.” Others were disturbed by out-of-towners
racing one another in their pickup trucks, particularly at night
around bar closing, when perhaps some drivers had been drinking.
More generally, residents lamented that because of the influx of
transient workers, certain towns in Guernsey and Noble Counties
no longer have a small town atmosphere where most everyone
knows one another. For example: “[In past years], I walked downtown
and knew everybody. Now you go into a restaurant, and you
hardly know anybody… We’re becoming more of a transient
community…of people coming into our community with not much
of a vested interest.”

3.3. Environment

Several residents were alarmed by potential effects on the
environment, including air, water, and plant life. These environmental
concerns fell into three emergent themes: fearing drinking
water contamination and filtering or replacing water; observing a
high number of distressed and dying trees; and ceasing farming
and gardening amid questions of contamination.

3.3.1. Fearing drinking water contamination and filtering or
replacing water

A number of residents feared that their water supply might be or
Table 2
Quality of life factors impacting some residents living among unconventional natural gas development.
Psychological Stress General stress and uncertainty
 Sense of frustration and manipulation
 Noise or light pollution
 Displacement from the region
Environment Fearing drinking water contamination and filtering or replacing water
 Observing distressed and dying trees
 Ceasing farming and gardening
Social Stress Families dividing
 Communities dividing
 Social fabric changing
Physical Health Health issues with questionable UNGD link
Traffic Traffic congestion
 Insufficient or damaged roadways
 Unsafe driving practices or accidents
Table 3
Number of residents reporting quality of life impacts, by residential proximity to unconventional natural gas development.
Proximity to UNGD
Environment Physical
Within 5 miles (n ¼ 19) 16 (84.2) 10 (52.6) 16 (84.2) 7 (36.8) 13 (68.4)
Greater than 5 miles (n ¼ 15) 9 (60.0) 10 (66.7) 4 (26.7) 0 (0.0) 14 (93.3)
a This refers to interviewees’ self-reported health problems believed to be fracking-related. It does not include general or non-specific concerns about fracking and health,
nor does it include occupational health issues reported by interviewees employed by the oil and gas industry.M.P. 94 Fisher et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 55 (2018) 90e98
become contaminated by the many chemicals used during the
UNGD process. In particular, “slickwater” fluid (consisting of water,
sand, and chemicals) is pumped into the wellbore during the UNGD
process, and residents feared potential leakage or migration from
the well into underground drinking water sources. This was a
particular issue for residents living in close proximity (i.e., less than
five miles) to UNGD and for residents sourcing from well water. For
example: “I’m really concerned about my well water, and I don’t
have water out my way. There’s no public water.” Moreover, residents
expressed concern over possible contamination with radioactive
material. For example: “I’m very concerned about not only
just the water-soluble radium in the water but the radioactive
particulate matter.” Indeed, some UNGD activity has been linked to
radioactive elements, since naturally occurring radioactive material
can be released from the earth’s crust during drilling (Nelson et al.,

Some residents expressed concern regarding waste disposal
procedures and particularly the use of injection wells. In particular,
residents feared potential leakage and groundwater contamination
near these wells. Injection wells are becoming commonplace in
some areas of Eastern Ohio, as oil and gas companies must dispose
of the millions of gallons of UNGDwastewater (Prud’homme, 2014).
In Guernsey and Noble Counties alone, the number of injection
wells had risen to 10 as of early 2016 (Ohio Department of Natural
Resources, 2016). Also, Ohio accepts wastewater from neighboring
states such as Pennsylvania since its geological conditions are more
favorable to wastewater disposal (Prud’homme, 2014).

Residents also expressed concern about potential contamination
of local lakes and reservoirs. The process of UNGD requires
large amounts of water for injecting slickwater fluid into the well,
and much of this water is sourced near oil and gas wells
(Prud’homme, 2014). Residents questioned whether the oil and gas
industry’s water collection methods might contaminate lakes and
reservoirs so they are no longer viable drinking water sources or
recreational sites. For example, some residents were concerned
about residual chemicals on hoses and equipment inserted into
lakes or reservoirs to extract water.

Due to concerns about contamination, a handful of residents
had ceased drinking the local water and instead drank water that
had been purified or sourced from other areas. They were purchasing
bottled water, filtering their tap water, or importing water
tanks or “buffalos.” One resident specifically moved to a home that
was not sourced by well water largely because of concerns over
possible water contamination.

3.3.2. Observing a high number of distressed and dying trees

Some residents noted that trees were unexpectedly losing their
leaves or dying. For example: “The tops of them. There’s no leaves.
There was nothing left in the tops of them. They start losing their
leaves, and then they die.” Residents witnessed these effects after
the introduction of UNGD and were unsure whether such conditions
might be caused, for example, by air pollution or groundwater
pollution. However, a handful of residents noticed that trees along
oil or gas pipelines were in particularly poor condition, thus
pointing toward the latter as a possible explanation: “The pear trees
are really affected by it. I don’t know what’s doing it… but the tops
of all my trees on my farm where those laterals went under, the
very tips have all died.”

3.3.3. Ceasing farming and gardening amid questions of

Some residents noted that their soil had been ruined by UNGD
operations because of runoff from adjacent UNGD sites believed to
be contaminated or from underground pipelines thought to be
leaking. Still, other residents were concerned with air pollution
from nearby fracking wells or compressor stations. Some such
residents noted that the threat of air or water contamination had
led them to cease farming and gardening. For example: “We can’t
grow anything, we’re farmers, we came here to retire and live off
the land…We raised animals, [but now] we can’t raise a garden, we
can’t have animals.” Likewise, another resident decided to stop
raising livestock specifically because of concerns about possible
water contamination: “I’m not carrying any livestock right now
because I don’t know whether to, because I don’t know about the
water contamination.”

3.4. Physical health: experiencing health problems while
questioning their link to UNGD

A handful of residents experienced health problems while
questioning their link to UNGD. In other words, residents presented
specific symptoms of ailments that had developed subsequent to
UNGD in the region. In particular, some residents experienced
recurring headaches. For example: “You get the headaches and you
get the irritation, and it goes away when you get away from [the
UNGD].” Others reported respiratory symptoms. For example: “I
mean we can’t take a deep breath some evenings over at the house.
It’ll just send you into a coughing spell.” Still, other residents reported
skin conditions such as rashes. For example: “I came down
with it first and thought it was a detergent rash. Then my husband
was just covered with a rash… Now [my child] has a rash. I’m
hearing of other people coming down with rashes.” Also, some
residents who had worked for the oil and gas industry shared accounts
of occupational health threats, including experiencing
chemical burns, losing consciousness after smelling noxious
chemicals, and sustaining musculoskeletal injuries from being
pressured to lift heavy equipment.

Further, some residents observed possible cancer clusters near
UNGD activities, though we did not have an opportunity to interview
those residents with cancer.

3.5. Traffic

A chief concern of residents was an observed increase in the
volume of traffic and its associated impacts. Residents explained
that heavy traffic was not a salient issue prior to UNGD but was
subsequently seen daily. Traffic concerns fell into one of three
emergent themes: experiencing traffic congestion, encountering
unsafe driving practices or auto accidents, and noticing insufficient
or damaged roadways.

3.5.1. Experiencing traffic congestion

Several residents grappled with traffic congestion due, at least in
part, to local oil and gas activity. In many instances, traffic negatively
impacted residents’ daily routines and was not welcomed.
For example: “Downtown takes you two or three times longer to
get through… for a person who has lived here as long as I have, we
don’t like that.” Traffic was also considered a problem for pedestrians:
“In a given morning walking across the street here [in years
past], you wouldn’t even have to look both ways and you could
walk across the street… But last summer and the summer before
that, you may have to wait five to ten minutes.”

3.5.2. Encountering unsafe driving practices or auto accidents

Nearly all interviewees had experienced dangerous encounters
with oil and gas truck drivers. Activities related to UNGD often
occur amid winding rural roads, where residents commonly veer or
slow to avoid hitting oil and gas trucks. Some residents noted a lack
of patience by oil and gas truck drivers, while others explicitly
labeled their driving as “reckless.” One resident witnessed several
M.P. Fisher et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 55 (2018) 90e98 95
truck drivers texting behind the wheel. Other residents experienced
or witnessed traffic accidents involving truck drivers. For
example: “I was at a red light at a busy intersection waiting to
proceed when the light turned green. And I had a truck hit me.”

3.5.3. Noticing insufficient or damaged roadways

In addition to concerns about traffic itself, residents suggested
that heavy truck traffic had spawned secondary impacts. Notably,
residents observed that poor road conditions and potholes have
become commonplace. For example, one resident stated: “The
roads have become terribly beat up. They’re constantly trying to
patch them as cheaply as they can.” More generally, residents
suggested that the local roadway infrastructure was not sufficient
to handle new traffic patterns. Indeed, many of the state routes and
city streets in the area are two-lane roads likely not built to sustain
high traffic.

Full report: 2017 report Psychosocial implications of unconventional drilling

Source: Elsevier – Journal of Environmental Psychology

BY:  Michael P. Fisher a, *, Alex Mayer a, Kaitlin Vollet a, Elaine L. Hill b, Erin N. Haynes a


Fig.1. Map highlighting Ohio's Guernsey and Noble Counties

Fig.2. Map of active or permitted horizontal drilling sites in Guernsey and Noble…

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