Research shows number of sex offenders grew at a rate between two and three times faster in areas reliant on energy development.
Mining and energy boom towns have long been known for some degree of lawlessness, or at best a certain rougher edge to life. A new paper published in the journal Conservation Biology, however, quantifies the issue in a number of towns in the Yellowstone area in Wyoming and comes to the conclusion that sexual offenders seem to flock to energy towns.
Biologists Joel Berger and John Beckman, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, compared the increases in registered sexual offenders from 1997 through 2008 in towns in the Greater Yellowstone Area that rely most heavily on energy production and in those that rely on agriculture or recreation for revenue.
Berger and Beckman found that the number of sex offenders grew at a rate between two and three times faster in ares reliant on energy than in the other areas.
The study was limited by a small number of communities involved: only nine in total were studied, with three in Wyoming forming the energy-dependent counties, two in Idaho and one in Montana relying on agrarian production, and one in each of those three states categorized as a recreational community.
As a measure of how the different types of towns might also bring some degree of social good along with the assumed "social ill" of sexual predators, the researchers looked at increases in hospital beds as well. They found no differences in that measure across the three community types.
"The evidence that social ills accrue in energy boom towns has been well chronicled," the authors wrote. "Although Greater Yellowstone offers the world much in terms of large landscapes, stunning scenery, functional predator-prey relationships, and biological diversity, the poorly planned gas fields of the Upper Green River Basin also proffer elements of a seedier nature. These elements involve social dishevelment, including a rise in the frequency of sexual predators, increasing crime, pollution, and habitat conversion."
Presence of 'social ills' not a new phenomenon in oil and gas boom towns
The research calls to mind earlier work by psychologist ElDean V. Kohrs in 1974. In a paper presented [PDF] to the Rocky Mountain American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting, he said the following:
"The history of power production – synonymous with 'boom development' – in Wyoming is a dismal record of human ecosystem wastage. Frontier expansion without adequate planning has left cities crippled by shameful environments which cause human casualties."
Coined the Gillette Syndrome after the town in Wyoming Kohrs described, the boomtown issues have clearly not diminished. A great example can be found in what may be the world's boomingest energy boomtown, Fort McMurray in Alberta. According to an Economist report cited by Andrew Nikiforuk in his book Tar Sands, as many as 40 percent of tar sands workers test positive for cocaine or marijuana. The town also reports five times more drug offenses than the rest of the province, because, according to Nikiforuk, "ordering crack cocaine at a work camp is easier than ordering a pizza."
The increase in registered sex offenders in a few Wyoming energy communities only adds to the evidence that where there is an energy source to be pulled from the ground, the world's "social ills" will soon follow.