Environmental controversy over unconventional natural gas development utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic “fracking” has been on the rise in recent years. While most of the media attention has been focused on the conflicts in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Colorado, the discovery of huge natural gas reserves in the Haynesville Shale formation in 2008 set off a drilling rush that has resulted in differential benefits and risks for various residents. Drawing on current research and extensive interview data collected from a relevant cross-section of community stakeholders, this study offers a descriptive and comparative analysis of the types of benefits and opportunities perceived to accompany increased unconventional natural gas development, the range of perceived negative impacts and threats associated with such development, and the extent to which respondents viewed the benefits of the Haynesville boom as outweighing the costs. While most stakeholders perceived that natural gas development offered the community a host of positive socioeconomic benefits in the form of increased jobs, tax revenues, services, and new economic opportunities for local businesses and landowners, a substantial minority of residents also associated shale development with a larger number of negative social, economic, and environmental impacts. Those included the degradation of water resources; increased road damage, noise, and traffic accidents; and other assorted threats to public health, animals, and the rural landscape. Moreover, while most Haynesville residents believed that the socioeconomic benefits of development had outweighed the collective socioeconomic/environmental costs to the region, a substantial minority of respondents was also skeptical or disagreed that the benefits to date had been worth the risks. These findings both support and extend existing sociological research in several key respects. The implications of the study, both for the region and the national debate over fracking, are discussed.

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