News

Getting by after the gas boom

Written by Marie Cusick | Jun 8, 2016 5:42 PM

Pennsylvania's natural gas boom has reshaped the nation's energy landscape and pumped billions of dollars into small town economies. But the surge in drilling also brought disruptions like skyrocketing housing prices and an influx of new people to rural areas.

StateImpact Pennsylvania recently paid a visit to Towanda, Bradford County. It's a place that's been along for a bumpy ride as its drilling boom went bust.

Grace Connection is a nonprofit run by churches that provides emergency assistance to people who need help.  Volunteer Office manager Judy Smith is fielding requests for things like shelter, transportation, and food. 

This is how she sums up the gas boom:  "There was a lot of good and a lot of bad."

Not long ago, Towanda was a major hub of Pennsylvania's drilling industry. It meant a lot more jobs and money flooded into this rural area. But housing prices spiked, and some people were left out in the cold.

"During the boom it was a lot of people who could no longer pay the rent because the landlords started raising the rents," says Smith. "And we were trying to find them a place to live, however a lot of folks, we just couldn't find a place for."

Smith says even some people who did well during the boom weren't expecting the drastic slowdown that came when the gas of price plummeted and the rigs disappeared.

"Now we're seeing people who purchased a new car to get to work no longer can make the payments," she says. "People who fixed their house up--got a loan to fix their house up, can't make the mortgage payment or the extra loan they took out."

Crystal Chagrin is one of the people in need of help.

"Thank God places like Grace Connection and other places help us out," she says. "If not [for them] I'd probably be homeless. I busted my butt for 10 years and I have nothing to show for it."

She moved up to Towanda a decade ago and used to have her own house. But after a divorce and an injury that prevents her from working, she is here trying to get assistance to pay for her electric bill.

"We didn't have oil one month and ran space heaters," she says. "Don't ever do it. 'Cause it ran my bill up to $400 dollars, for one month. I mean, that's crazy."

Even though many of the gas workers are gone, Chagrin says rental prices are still a lot higher than they used to be. The only place she can afford now is in a trailer park.

"[The gas boom] just made our poverty go really low because the [industry workers] were making so much money. But now they're not even around anymore."

Grace Connection has been trying to tackle the problem of homelessness in town, and but Judy Smith says they haven't been successful yet in getting a shelter for people who need a place to stay.

"It's hard to describe, when we go home we can't help them."

The oil and gas industry is known for its rapid swings, so if the economics change, things could always start booming again. It remains to be seen whether Towanda will be ready for the next bust.

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