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


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.

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


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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




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.

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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)

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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).

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