Over 15 million homeowners have a natural gas or oil well within a mile of their home—according to a Wall Street Journal analysis published Saturday—thanks to the fracking gold rush that has pushed the fossil fuel industry into Americans' backyards.
"At least 15.3 million Americans live within a mile of a well that has been drilled since 2000," said the WSJ analysis, which looked at well location and population data for more than 700 counties in 11 major energy-producing states. "That is more people than live in Michigan or New York City."
The story credits the toxic process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for spurring the expansion of the fossil fuel industry into the small towns and neighborhoods over the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Barnett Shale in Texas, among others.
"The change can be dramatic," the WSJ writes.
In Johnson County, Texas, in 2000, there were fewer than 20 oil and gas wells. Only a fraction of the residents of this mostly suburban county, south of Fort Worth, lived anywhere near a well or could tell you where to find one.
Today, more than 3,900 wells dot the county and some 99.5% of its 150,000 residents live within a mile of a well. Similar transformations took place in parts of Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wyoming, according to Journal data.
According to DrillingInfo, a data provider to the oil industry, in 2010 some 23 counties, with more than four million residents, each had more than three new wells per square mile.
The WSJ quotes a number of homeowners who have either permitted by lease onto their own property or watched the oil industry move in to adjacent land. Describing the new wells as little more than an "irritation" focusing particularly on the noise and "influx of truck traffic," the report fails to emphasize the long-term impact of these new neighbors.
Documented in environmental journals and films such as director Josh Fox's Gasland and Gasland Part II, communities which have already been ravaged by the fracking boom report widespread water contamination—resulting in sickness, dead livestock and flammable tap water.
In late July, environmental groups uncovered a leaked EPA report that said fracking caused methane to leak into drinking-water aquifers in Dimock, Penn. Dimock, which is featured in Gasland, has become the exemplar of a community casualty of the toxic fracking boom.