Deliberating the perceived risks, benefits, and societal implications of shale gas and oil extraction by hydraulic fracturing in the US and UK

Abstract

Shale gas and oil production in the US has increased rapidly in the past decade, while interest in prospective development has also arisen in the UK. In both countries, shale resources and the method of their extraction (hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’) have been met with opposition amid concerns about impacts on water, greenhouse gas emissions, and health effects. Here we report the findings of a qualitative, cross-national deliberation study of public perceptions of shale development in UK and US locations not yet subject to extensive shale development. When presented with a carefully calibrated range of risks and benefits, participants’ discourse focused on risks or doubts about benefits, and potential impacts were viewed as inequitably distributed. Participants drew on direct, place-based experiences as well as national contexts in deliberating shale development. These findings suggest that shale gas development already evokes a similar ‘signature’ of risk across the US and UK.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Summary of importance rankings.
Figure 2: Responses to post-workshop survey questions.

References

  1. 1

    McGlade, C. & Ekins, P. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 C. Nature 517, 187–190 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    McGarr, A. et al. Coping with earthquakes induced by fluid injection. Science 347, 830–831 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering Shale Gas Extraction in the UK: A Review of Hydraulic Fracturing (Royal Society, 2012).

  4. 4

    Jacquet, J. B. & Stedman, R. C. The risk of social-psychological disruption as an impact of energy development and environmental change. J. Environ. Plan. Manag. 57, 1285–1304 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Henwood, K. L. & Pidgeon, N. F. in Communicating Risk (eds Crichton, J., Candlin, C. N. & Firkins, A. S. ) 155–170 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Thomas, M. J. et al. Public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and oil in the United States and Canada. WIREs Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/wcc.450 (2017).

  7. 7

    North, D. W., Stern, P. C., Webler, T. & Field, P. Public and stakeholder participation for managing and reducing the risks of shale gas development. Environ. Sci. Tech. 48, 8388–8396 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Beierle, T. C. & Cayford, J. Democracy in Practice: Public Participation in Environmental Decisions (Resources for the Future, 2002).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Stern, P. C. & Fineberg, P. Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society (National Academies, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Rogers-Hayden, T. & Pidgeon, N. F. Moving engagement “upstream”? Nanotechnologies and the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering inquiry. Pub. Und. Sci. 16, 346–364 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Stirling, A. in Science and Citizens: Globalisation and the Challenge of Engagement (eds Leach, M., Scoones, I. & Wynne, B. ) 218–231 (Zed Books, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Dietz, T. Bringing values and deliberation to science communication. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 14081–14087 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Demski, C., Butler, C., Parkhill, K. A., Spence, A. & Pidgeon, N. F. Public values for energy system change. Glob. Environ. Change 34, 59–69 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Pidgeon, N. F., Demski, C., Butler, C., Parkhill, K. & Spence, A. Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 13606–13613 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Boholm, Å. & Löfstedt, R. Facility Siting: Risk Power and Identity in Land Use Planning (Earthscan, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Upham, P., Lis, A., Riesch, H. & Stankiewicz, P. Addressing social representations in socio-technical transitions with the case of shale gas. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 16, 120–141 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Partridge, T. et al. Seeing futures now: emergent US and UK views on shale development, climate change and energy systems. Glob. Environ. Change 42, 1–12 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Ashmoore, O., Evensen, D., Clarke, C., Krakower, J. & Simon, J. Regional newspaper coverage of shale gas development across Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania: similarities, differences, and lessons. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 11, 119–132 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Israel, A. L., Wong-Parodi, G., Webler, T. & Stern, P. C. Eliciting public concerns about an emerging energy technology: the case of unconventional shale gas development in the United States. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 8, 139–150 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Whitmarsh, L. et al. UK public perceptions of shale gas hydraulic fracturing: the role of audience, message and contextual factors on risk perceptions and policy support. Appl. Energy 160, 419–430 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Evensen, D. T., Clarke, C. E. & Stedman, R. C. A New York or Pennsylvania state of mind: social representations in newspaper coverage of gas development in the Marcellus Shale. J. Environ. Stud. Sci. 4, 65–77 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Kraus, N., Malmfors, T. & Slovic, P. Intuitive toxicology: expert and lay judgments of chemical risks. Risk Anal. 12, 215–232 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Pidgeon, N. F., Hood, C., Jones, D., Turner, B. & Gibson, R. in Risk—Analysis, Perception and Management: Report of a Royal Society Study Group (ed. Warner, F. ) 89–134 (Royal Society, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Ferrar, K. J. et al. Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region. Int. J. Occup. Environ. Health 19, 104–112 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Brasier, K. J. et al. Residents’ perceptions of community and environmental impacts from development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale: a comparison of Pennsylvania and New York cases. J. Rural Soc. Sci. 26, 32–61 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Spence, A., Poortinga, W. & Pidgeon, N. F. The psychological distance of climate change. Risk Anal. 32, 957–972 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Greenberg, M. Energy sources, public policy, and public preferences: analysis of US national and site-specific data. Energy Policy 37, 3242–3249 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Barvosa, E. Mapping public ambivalence in public engagement with science: implications for democratizing the governance of fracking technologies in the USA. J. Environ. Stud. Sci. 5, 497–507 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Satterfield, T., Kandlikar, M., Beaudrie, C. E., Conti, J. & Harthorn, B. H. Anticipating the perceived risk of nanotechnologies. Nat. Nanotech. 4, 752–758 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Harthorn, B., Shearer, C. & Rogers, J. in Quantum Engagements: Social Reflections of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies (eds Zülsdorf, T. B. et al.) 75–89 (Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 2011).

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Williams, L., Macnaghten, P., Davies, R. & Curtis, S. Framing ‘fracking’: exploring public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing in the United Kingdom. Publ. Und. Sci. 26, 89–104 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Bickerstaff, K., Lorenzoni, I., Pidgeon, N. F., Poortinga, W. & Simmons, P. Reframing nuclear power in the UK energy debate: nuclear power, climate change mitigation and radioactive waste. Publ. Und. Sci. 17, 145–169 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    Sangaramoorthy, T. et al. Place-based perceptions of the impacts of fracking along the Marcellus Shale. Soc. Sci. Med. 151, 27–37 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    Bradshaw, M. J. in Risks, Rewards and Regulation of Unconventional Gas (eds Grafton, Q., Cronshaw, I. & Moore, M. ) 167–196 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Paydar, N. et al. The effect of community reinvestment funds on local acceptance of unconventional gas development. Econ. Energy Environ. Policy 5, 131–156 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Cass, N., Walker, G. & Devine-Wright, P. Good neighbours, public relations and bribes: the politics and perceptions of community benefit provision in renewable energy development in the UK. J. Environ. Policy Plan. 12, 255–275 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Boudet, H., Bugden, D., Zanocco, C. & Maibach, E. The effect of industry activities on public support for ‘fracking’. Environ. Policy 25, 593–612 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38

    Mohai, P., Pellow, D. & Roberts, J. T. Environmental justice. Annu. Rev. Environ. Res. 34, 405–430 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39

    Kriesky, J., Goldstein, B. D., Zell, K. & Beach, S. Differing opinions about natural gas drilling in two adjacent counties with different levels of drilling activity. Energy Policy 58, 228–236 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40

    Reiner, D. et al. American exceptionalism? Similarities and differences in national attitudes toward energy policy and global warming. Environ. Sci. Technol. 40, 2093–2098 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Pidgeon, N., Harthorn, B. H., Bryant, K. & Rogers-Hayden, T. Deliberating the risks of nanotechnologies for energy and health applications in the United States and United Kingdom. Nat. Nanotech. 4, 95–98 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Jasanoff, S. Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States (Princeton Univ. Press, 2005).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43

    Lipset, S. M. American Exceptionalism: A Double-edged Sword (WW Norton and Company, 1996).

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Demski, C. C., Poortinga, W. & Pidgeon, N. F. Exploring public perceptions of energy security risks in the UK. Energy Policy 66, 369–378 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Baron, J. & Spranca, M. Protected values. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 70, 1–16 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46

    Chan, K. M. A., Satterfield, T. & Goldstein, J. Rethinking ecosystem services to better address and navigate cultural values. Ecol. Econ. 74, 8–18 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47

    Renn, O. in The Social Amplification of Risk (eds Pidgeon, N. F., Kasperson, R. K. & Slovic, P. ) 374–401 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48

    Carlisle, J. E., Feezell, J. T., Michaud, K. E., Smith, E. R. & Smith, L. The public’s trust in scientific claims regarding offshore oil drilling. Publ. Und. Sci. 19, 514–527 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49

    Brasier, K. et al. Risk perceptions of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale. Environ. Pract. 15, 108–122 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50

    Jacquet, J. & Stedman, R. C. Natural gas landowner coalitions in New York State: emerging benefits of collective natural resource management. J. Rural Soc. Sci. 26, 62–91 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  51. 51

    Cotton, M. Stakeholder perspectives on shale gas fracking: a Q-method study of environmental discourses. Environ. Plan. A 47, 1944–1962 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Anderson, B. J. & Theodori, G. L. Local leaders’ perceptions of energy development in the Barnett shale. South. Rural Sociol. 24, 113–129 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  53. 53

    Conti, J., Satterfield, T. & Harthorn, B. H. Vulnerability and social justice as factors in emergent US nanotechnology risk perceptions. Risk Anal. 31, 1734–1748 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54

    Bellamy, R. & Lezaun, J. Crafting a public for geoengineering. Publ. Und. Sci. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963662515600965 (2015).

  55. 55

    Clarke, C. E. et al. Public opinion on energy development: the interplay of issue framing, top-of-mind associations, and political ideology. Energy Policy 81, 131–140 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56

    Renn, O., Webler, T. & Wiedemann, P. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse (Kluwer, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57

    Stern, P. C. & Dietz, T. Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making (National Academies, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  58. 58

    Nabatchi, T., Gastil, J., Weiksner, G. M. & Leighninger, M. Democracy in Motion: Evaluating the Practice and Impact of Deliberative Civic Engagement (Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59

    Pidgeon, N. F. & Henwood, K. L. in Handbook of Data Analysis (eds Hardy, M. & Bryman, A. ) 625–648 (Sage, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  60. 60

    Pidgeon, N. F. & Demski, C. C. From nuclear to renewable: energy system transformation and public attitudes. Bull. Atom. Sci. 68, 41–51 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Funding for this research was provided by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in Cooperative Agreement SES-0938099 and grant SES-1535193. Supplemental funding came from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no 640715. Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. We would like to thank all of our participants in the US and UK, without whom this research would not have been possible, and the members of our expert panel for their time and expertise. We also thank A. Hasell, L. Stevenson, C. Enders, R. Sposato and E. Roberts for assistance in workshops and data analysis.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.T., T.P., N.P. and B.H.H. designed and performed the research; M.T. and T.P. analysed the data; M.T., T.P., N.P. and B.H.H. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nick Pidgeon.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Data 1

Workshop protocol (US/UK). (PDF 3116 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

PowerPoint presentation (US/UK). (PDF 2306 kb)

Supplementary Data 3

Advantages and disadvantages posters (US/UK). (PDF 366 kb)

Supplementary Data 4

Extra information sheets for poster task (US/UK). (PDF 664 kb)

Supplementary Data 5

Quotes task (US/UK). (PDF 275 kb)

Supplementary Data 6

Cards used in role playing task (US/UK). (PDF 743 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Thomas, M., Partridge, T., Harthorn, B. et al. Deliberating the perceived risks, benefits, and societal implications of shale gas and oil extraction by hydraulic fracturing in the US and UK. Nat Energy 2, 17054 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2017.54

Download citation

Further reading