When fracking arrived in Pennsylvania, state residents were told to expect several things — jobs, revenue and environmental challenges — all of which eventually came. What also showed up was traffic, and some of it was deadly.
An analysis of traffic deaths and census data in six heavy drilling states — Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota and Colorado — showed that road fatalities have more than quadrupled in some gas exploration zones since 2004, while traveling in the United States generally became safer.
The study by The Associated Press is a frank reminder that traffic volume and its accompanying hazards can rise with any surge in economic activity, be it a new shopping mall, college campus or assembly plant. Same goes for an industry that installs drilling pads and transports fracking materials.
A single gas well can require 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips to deliver the mixture of water, sand or gravel and chemicals needed to fracture the underground shale, which releases the gas, the analysis said. That means advance traffic planning must be done as much for Marcellus Shale development as for a new cluster of townhouses.
To keep this industry a net gain for Pennsylvania, public officials must be vigilant about its impact not only on the environment but also on the road system.