Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Drilling Down: An Examination of the Boom-Crime Relationship in Resource-Based Boom Counties

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Drilling Down: An Examination of the Boom-Crime Relationship in Resource-Based Boom Counties

Article excerpt

Abstract: The expansion in natural resource development in rural communities has led to a number of social problems in these places. The media, community stakeholders, as well as law enforcement and human service personnel have reported that the rapid growth in these communities leads to increased crime and other social ills. In order to better understand the boom-crime relationship, index crimes in oil and natural gas producing counties in Montana and North Dakota were examined. Comparison of 2012 crime rates in a matched sample of counties revealed that crime rates were higher in oil-impacted counties. A pre-post analysis found that violent crime in boom counties increased 18.5% between 2006 and 2012 while decreasing 25.6% in a matched sample of counties that had no oil or gas production. Inconsistent with the media portrayal of these communities as a new "wild west" we did not find a significant association between oil or natural gas production and property or violent crime in a series of OLS regression models. Missing crime data was a significant limitation in this study and precludes us from making any broad generalizations about the boom-crime relationship. Implications for further research are described.

Keywords: boomtowns, resource-based booms, rural crime, boomtown effects


The rapid population and economic growth associated with resource-based exploration and extraction has contributed to a number of social ills which have been called boomtown effects (Government of New Brunswick 2012). Unlike normal population growth, resource-based booms have resulted in the influx of young male newcomers who earn large salaries and have little stake in these communities (Ruddell and Thomas 2012). In some cases these workers drive-in and drive-out (DIDO) or fly- in and fly-out (FIFO) to their worksites and live in temporary housing or man camps that may house a thousand or more workers (White 2012). As a result of these demographic changes, there has been an imbalanced population sex ratio, a disruption in normal patterns of interaction (e.g., less informal social control or density of acquaintance - see Freudenburg 1984; 1986) and damage to the social fabric that may be criminogenic in small communities (Lee and Thomas 2010).

Prior research has shown that the rapid population growth linked with resource-based booms contributes to increased levels of antisocial behavior and crime in rural Australia (Carrington and Pereira 2011; Scott, Carrington, and McIntosh 2012), Canada (O'Connor 2011; Ruddell 2011) and the U.S. (Archbold 2013; Montana All Threat Intelligence Center & North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center [hereafter: MND Report] 2012; Perry 2007; Ruddell and Thomas 2012).1 In addition, there are a growing number of studies that have shown that the quality of life decreases in these places due to non-criminal acts and problems with traffic. Boomtown residents report being fearful of dangerous or drunk drivers (Ruddell, Ortiz and Thomas 2013) and scholars have found that resource development can result in traffic congestion (Archbold 2013; Petkoba-Timmer, Lockie, Rolfe, and Ivanova 2009) and a greater number of accidents (MND Report 2012).

Law enforcement agencies in resource-based boom communities often find themselves stretched thin as demand for services increase (Archbold 2013; Ruddell 2011). The authors of the MND Report (2012: 2) noted that, "Increases in calls for service, arrests, index crimes, fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle crashes, and sexual offenders, as well as significant turnover and recruitment issues have exacerbated the challenges experienced by law enforcement agencies." There is less agreement on the magnitude of these changes and a number of investigators have reported that changes in levels of crime in boom counties were modest or not significantly different than in surrounding counties (Brown 2010; Forsyth, Luthra, and Bankston 2007; Kowalski and Zajac 2012; Luthra 2006; Luthra, Bankston, Kalich, and Forsyth 2007). …

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