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Youth Perceptions of Community in Shale Gas Regions

In a 2017 article published in Rural Sociology, researchers from The Pennsylvania State University shared findings of their 2017 study on impacts of Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction on youth perceptions of community in rural Pennsylvania. Contrary to previous explorations of youth perceptions from small boom towns in the western US and Canada, researchers in this study found that youth in communities experiencing Marcellus Shale activity were more likely to state that they liked their community “a lot” than those youth in communities not experiencing shale activity.

Previous studies on this topic focused on smaller energy boom/bust towns in the Western US and Canada, and data from these studies is generally from the 1980s. In these older studies, researchers found that youth were most satisfied with their communities pre-boom, and least satisfied during the boom. Youths in these studies reported unhappiness with social and cultural factors, including negative interactions with new student populations from the boom. In contrast to smaller boom towns from previous studies though, counties involved in Marcellus Shale activity are mostly larger and have been more well established pre-boom.

For this study, the Rural Youth Education (RYE) longitudinal study provided researchers with pre-boom (year 2005) and mid-boom (year 2009) data on youths’ satisfaction with community and opinions on a variety of related topics, including: youth characteristics and aspirations (ie, gender, grades, career and education goals), views on educational and occupational opportunities in the community, views about the community, and views about family involvement in the community. The RYE surveyed students from 10 rural public school districts; two districts involved in the RYE experienced Marcellus Shale drilling, while the eight others experienced no drilling activity. Notably, the two districts involved that did experience drilling are located in the top five most highly concentrated well counties in the Marcellus play, meaning that these students experienced a high intensity of drilling activity.

In addition to findings that youth in Marcellus Shale counties were more likely to like their community “a lot” by mid-boom in 2009, researchers also discovered that youth in Marcellus regions had fewer aspirations for bachelors degree attainment and pursuit of professional occupations, and were more likely to want to stay in rural Pennsylvania as adults. Youths in both Marcellus activity and non-Marcellus activity counties had similar views on job availability in their communities. Researchers in this study also noted that further research is needed to see how youth opinions continue to be impacted not just during pre- and mid-boom times, but also during post-boom timeframes.

Youth perceptions of community impact youths’ interest in staying within a community, which in turn helps forecast future job markets and community attributes. Especially in areas with a high demand for young workers, such as the workforce demanded by well drilling activity, keeping an eye on youth opinion may prove valuable.

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