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New study throws light on public attitude to fracking

A new report shows that public attitudes to fracking are, at least to an extent, predictable based on certain factors like gender, age, political persuasion, and environmental values. Lead author Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh from Cardiff University and the Tyndall Centre says “This is the first UK experimental survey of public perceptions of shale gas fracking. We find the public is very uncertain about the technology and about the government’s ability to adequately regulate shale gas.”

Some of the findings are unsurprising – For example Conservatives tend to support shale gas whereas those towards the left are more inclined to oppose it. What is interesting is the extent of the differences between support and opposition in some key areas.

Within the report there is a table showing responses to 13 key questions. Below we have reorganised the questions into two groups to be able to understand them better and aggregated the “Strongly Agree” and “Agree” and “Strongly Disagree” and “Disagree” total into totals for each.

The first group are questions which might be taken to imply opposition to fracking

Opposition statements

It is clear from this chart that the public are aware of and concerned by the risks posed by fracking and are concerned that allowing the fracking industry to go ahead in the UK may have negative implications as regards climate change. People appear concerned enough though that, even if it goes ahead, a large percentage will still make changes to their own behaviour to help tackle climate change.

Turning to the questions which gave respondents the opportunity to support fracking

Pro statements

Unsurprisingly a majority can see that an indigenous source of energy would reduce reliance on foreign sources. More surprisingly given the shaky economic basis of shale more people see it as a reliable source of energy than otherwise.  From here though it all goes downhill for the frackers, with more people disagreeing that it will be a cheap energy source, reduce energy bills, be a clean energy, has sufficient regulation, or that the government can adequately regulate it. The discrepancy between the numbers of those agreeing and disagreeing on the regulation issues is particularly marked.

What is perhaps the most striking finding though is the huge difference between those in favour of shale gas and those against it in this sample.

Over 40% are either “somewhat unfavourable”or “very unfavourable” to Shale Gas as an energy source compared to about 20% being “very favourable” or “somewhat favourable”.

That elusive social licence to operate would appear to be as far away as ever.

The full report can be found here.

Note on the sample selection:

Participants (N = 1457) were drawn from a UK online market/social research panel. We sampled three regions: one where shale gas fracking has already commenced (Lancashire, focussed on Weeton, Elswick, Roseacre Wood, Preston New Road, Westby, Banks 4; 32%); one with potential for (but so far no exploitation of) shale gas fracking (South Wales, focussed on Pontrhydyfen, Cwmafan and Llandow; 34% 5); and one where there are no shale deposits (Mid/North Wales, including neighbouring English towns; 34%).

We would point out that we were surprised to read in the report the following statements

“One where shale gas fracking has already commenced (Lancashire, focussed on Weeton, Elswick, Roseacre Wood, Preston New Road, Westby, Banks ”


“Participants from Lancashire (i.e., where fracking has been ongoing for some years) rated shale gas as a more favourable energy source”

These gives a clear impression that familiarity with fracking engenders acceptance, which is not supported by the reality.

Whilst it is technically correct to say that shale gas fracking has” already commenced” in Lancashire, to suggest that “fracking has been ongoing for some years” is rather misleading.

There was a single well HVHF fracked into shale at Preeese Hall in 2011 which resulted in the famous earth tremors, and that is the only well ever to have been HVHF fracked into shale in the entire UK. Ever.

Cuadrilla claim that a well at Elswick was fracked in the 1990s, but that was a vertical well into a conventional reservoir (sandstone) used only about 180m3 of fluid compared to the 19,000 m3 of fluid that even the GWPF say is likely to be required for a typical horizontal HVHF fracked well into shale. DECC agree that this can’t be considered analogous to what is being proposed today for HVHF fracking. The ASA censured Cuadrilla for trying to use the Elswick well as an analog for what is being proposed. We think it is therefore safe to conclude that a more accurate statement might be “Participants from Lancashire (i.e., where one well was HVHF fracked 4 years ago) rated shale gas as a more favourable energy source”

We have pointed out that this is something that we think could be wrongly interpreted by uninformed readers and await a response from the lead author.

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