Main content area

Public perception of the relationship between climate change and unconventional gas development (‘fracking’) in the US

Evensen, Darrick, Brown-Steiner, Benjamin
Climate policy 2018 v.18 no.5 pp. 556-567
carbon, carbon dioxide, climate, climate change, coal, emissions, energy, energy costs, global warming potential, hydraulic fracturing, infrastructure, issues and policy, methane, public opinion, quality of life, shale, shale gas, surveys, New York, Pennsylvania
‘Fracking’, or unconventional gas development via hydraulic fracturing (hereafter ‘UGD’), has been closely tied to global climate change in academic discourse. Researchers have debated the life cycle emissions of shale gas versus coal, rates of methane leakage from wellhead production and transmission infrastructure, the extent to which coal would be displaced by gas as a source of energy, the appropriate time-scale for accounting for the global warming potentials of methane and carbon dioxide, surface versus airborne methane measurements, and the effect of lowered energy prices on gas consumption. Little research, however, has examined the degree to which these potential connections between UGD and climate change are relevant to the general public. This article presents two surveys, one of a representative national (US) sample and one of a representative sample of residents in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania and New York. It examines whether respondents associated UGD with climate change, and the relationship between this association and their support for, or opposition to, UGD. The results reveal that beliefs about many other potential impacts of UGD explain more variation in support and opposition than do beliefs about UGD’s association with climate change. Furthermore, most other impacts of UGD are viewed as having more effect on quality of life if they were to occur, at least amongst the Marcellus Shale survey sample. The article concludes with implications of the findings for policy and communication on UGD. Key policy insights Public opinion about unconventional gas development (UGD or ‘fracking’) is affected less by beliefs about its impact on global climate change, than about several other more local factors. Communication tailored to increase awareness of UGD’s impacts would likely be most effective when focusing on the local level, as opposed to national or global impacts. Messaging about UGD’s relationship with carbon emissions would have more effect in national-level discourse, as opposed to messaging targeted at communities experiencing or potentially experiencing development. To maintain credibility and societal trust, communication on the global climate impacts of UGD needs to be informative but non-persuasive.