A new study reveals that the number of registered sex offenders in energy boomtowns is two to three times higher than towns that are dependent on other industries. Esciencenews.com reports that the study, first published in the journal Conservation Biology, took place over a nine-year period. It shows that oil and gas drilling booms may make the towns attractive to registered sex offenders.

The study was organized by Dr. Joel Berger and Dr. Jon P. Beckmann of the University of Montana and Wildlife Conservation Society. The scientists looked at communities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (also called GYE) in Wyoming. Experts refer to this area as the largest intact ecosystem in Earth's temperate zone. The researchers looked at the "social dysfunction and biological impoverishment" related to the industries that take over the boomtowns in this area.

Berger and Beckman studied records at the local county attorney offices to understand how the level of convicted felons changed over the nine-year period. Their findings were surprising. The number of sexual offenders grew by two to three times more in areas dependent on oil extraction. If the area was dependent on agriculture or tourism, the same rate of increase did not apply.

The reason for this is surprisingly simple: people are attracted to energy boomtowns because they offer a high rate of employment with high salaries. Energy development brings population growth, which sometimes brings all the ills of humanity. The researchers note that this pattern is not specific to the United States, as it has been “reflected consistently” in areas as culturally and geographically different as Ecuador and Canada.

Beckmann says the development of wide-scale energy projects effects communities and the environment. According to Beckmann, "This is not to say that the arrival of the energy industry into a community directly leads to sexual predation. Rather it is symptomatic of wider social and economic issues which communities face when they become dependent on the rise and fall of these industries. Our findings underscore an increase in sexual predators as a result of the dramatic social upheaval caused when a large influx of people are attracted to energy boomtowns due to high rates of employment and high salaries."

Looking at the negative elements associated with changing human economies, the researchers determined that the increase of sexual predators puts an inevitable strain on the locals. The rural residents of these towns may hold a different set of morality and social practices to the incoming workforce. This includes other social ills such as domestic violence, use of illegal drugs, and even wildlife poaching.

In the end, the researchers urge vigilance. Oil spills and poisoned water are likely not the only consequences of an energy boom. As Berger said, "Our findings suggest that the public and industry need stronger regulatory action to instill greater vigilance in areas which face ecological, economic and social problems, due to dependence on the energy industry."

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