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The Influence of the Pace and Scale of Energy Development on Communities: Lessons from the Natural Gas Drilling Boom in the Rocky Mountains

By Michelle A. Haefele and Pete Morton


Both the number of oil and gas wells drilled annually2 (U.S. Department of Interior [U.S.D.I.], Bureau of Land Management 2009) and the number of producing natural gas wells3 (U.S. Department of Energy 2009) in the Rocky Mountain region4 more than doubled from 1998 to 2008. The proportion of U.S. natural gas production from the region increased from 16% in 1997 to 23% in 2007 (U. S. Department of Energy 2009) and the number of drilling rigs operating in the region grew from 131 in 2002 to 318 in 2009.5 This increase in natural gas drilling in the region has created boomtown conditions in several rural communities. While energy development can benefit rural communities, boomtowns in the Rockies experienced an influx of non-local workers, a rise in crime and emergency service calls, increased demand for public services, more wear and tear on local infrastructure, and upward pressure on local wages and housing costs. Natural gas prices had dropped dramatically by 2009, the drilling boom had subsided, and the bust phase may have begun (Figure 1). The recent energy boom-bust begs the question—how can communities learn from recent history to better take advantage of future energy development for both short-term and long-term benefits?Resource /Energy Economics and Policy,

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