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Wells and well-being

Michael Betz
November 15, 2018

How the shale energy revolution is changing rural families and communities

In March 2018, Anastasia Snyder (Human Sciences) and I were awarded $499,987 by the

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), to investigate the impact of the shale boom (and bust) on rural communities. Most research has focused on the economic impact of shale development on communities, but evidence of how such dramatic changes in wealth and demographics impact aspects of life such as marriage, divorce, fertility and other family changes is scant.

Yet, understanding shale development’s impact on family formation, dissolution and composition is critical because strong families are central to rural community vitality and resilience. When families thrive, communities thrive. When family relationships deteriorate, social ills such as addiction, abuse and despair follow.

Our project’s central hypothesis is that the flood of money and people flowing into shale drilling communities during the boom — and the subsequent reversal of resource flows during the bust — substantially alters family outcomes in those communities and alters them differently in comparison to economic shocks from other industries.

The goals of the project include:

  • Understanding how the boom/bust cycle of shale energy development impacts rural family outcomes.
  • Assessing how these impacts differ across the vastly different contexts in which shale energy development occurs nationally.
  • Providing community leaders with key insights into how shale energy development affects family outcomes in drilling communities to improve the lives of those living there.

Our research team is combining two high-quality, restricted-access data sets that have never been used to answer questions regarding shale energy development and families. Publically available data on family outcomes and oil and gas activity is censored for many smaller, rural areas where the majority of shale activity is taking place. This censoring has precluded researchers from investigating a potential link between shale development and family outcomes.

We have overcome this challenge by accessing and analyzing geographically restricted marriage and family data at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Kentucky Research Data Center in combination with detailed proprietary oil and gas employment data from Economic Modeling Specialists International.

For additional information about this project, contact principal investigator, Michael Betz at


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