Communities economically dependent on the oil and gas industries are havens for sex offenders, according to a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology.
The study used data from nine county attorney’s offices to determine how many registered sex offenders moved into communities in and around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in Wyoming. Several towns in this area are dependent on the oil and gas industries, while others rely on agriculture and tourism to maintain their economies.
Researchers found that over a nine-year period, the number of sex offenders grew two to three times more in the energy boomtowns than in similar communities dependent on agriculture and tourism. The total increase in sex offenders in all of the GYE communities was 300% from 1997 to 2008.
Why this is happening seems related to the “social and economic upheaval” that occurs in communities dependent on the energy industry. At first, the prospect of employment and higher-than-average salaries draws large numbers of people to these towns. As the economies of the towns rise and fall with the industry, their populations rise and fall. Not only is this dynamic linked to an influx of sex offenders, but also higher rates of domestic violence, drug abuse and overall crime.
In particular, the use of crystal meth has followed the rise and fall of energy towns in Wyoming and other Western states. The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation reports that methamphetamine investigations hit an all-time high of 60% of all drug investigations in 2005.
Where meth use is prevalent, so is violent crime. According to the Association for Criminal Justice Research, meth users are 30% more likely to commit more crimes after release from prison than non-meth users, and three times more likely to report committing violent acts overall.
But aside from meth use, energy boomtowns in other parts of the world fit a comparable pattern of increased crime linked to social upheaval. The study cites similar statistics in Ecuador and northern Canada.