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Americans Uninformed About Fracking Says New Study

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Most Americans have heard little or nothing of the oil and gas production process called hydraulic fracturing, and many don’t know if they support or oppose it, according to a new paper by researchers from Oregon State, George Mason and Yale universities.

The research, published this week, is based on questions about fracking included in the 2012 biennial Climate Change in the American Mind survey, which gauges the public’s understanding of issues associated with climate change.

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Advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology are responsible for the current shale oil and natural gas drilling boom in the U.S. The boom has begun to fuel a shift in electricity generation from carbon-emitting coal-fired power plants to cleaner natural gas power plants, reducing overall carbon emissions from electricity generation. The boom has also sparked concerns about how methane emissions from fracking and leaks in the natural gas production and distribution system may fuel climate change, which scientists have yet to fully quantify.

Voters in four Colorado cities and another in Ohio banned or placed a moratorium on fracking in November because of the public’s concerns about how fracking could fuel climate change, pollute water and affect air quality. Two other anti-fracking ballot initiatives in Ohio failed on election day.

Four questions about fracking were included in the Climate Change in the American Mind survey, which sampled 1,061 Americans in September 2012. More than half of those surveyed said they had heard little or nothing about fracking, and 9 percent reported they had heard “a lot.” Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said they didn’t know or were undecided about whether they supported or opposed fracking, while 20 percent were opposed and 22 percent supported it.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed specifically reported that they knew nothing at all about fracking. Seven percent said they were aware of some environmental impacts of fracking and 3 percent said they were aware of positive economic and energy supply impacts of fracking.

MORE: Watch 62 Years of Global Warming in 13 Seconds

“Shale gas development through hydraulic fracturing is a rapidly growing phenomenon in both the U.S. and abroad that has, in many ways, changed the policy conversation around energy supply and development,” Oregon State University sociology associate professor Hilary Boudet, the paper’s lead author, said Thursday. “For example, when I first began my dissertation back in 2004, the U.S. was trying to figure out ways to import natural gas. Now, we’re talking about becoming a net exporter.

“A similar phenomenon is happening around oil,” she said. “Public perceptions of this type of development will play a role, along with energy prices and technological advancement, in determining our future energy development and policies, thus it’s important that we understand the depth of public understanding of the issue.”

Boudet and her team’s research showed that the depth of most Americans’ understanding of crude oil and natural gas development using fracking is shallow. The research shows Americans have very little knowledge about fracking and its benefits and risks, findings that have implications for U.S. energy policy and risk communications, the paper says.

“Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware and undecided about this issue,” the paper says. “Over half of those surveyed had heard nothing at all or only a little about it, and more than half didn’t know or were undecided about whether to support or oppose it. Among the minority who has formed an opinion, respondents were nearly split between support and opposition.”

MORE: Fracking May Emit Less Methane Than Previous Estimates

Boudet and her team’s findings aren’t surprising to researchers at FracTracker.org, an oil and gas research organization formerly part of the University of Pittsburgh, but now independent, said Samantha Malone, FracTracker manager of science and communications.

“When conducting training sessions on how to use FracTracker.org, we often find that we must first explain the process of drilling for unconventional oil and gas before the training can commence,” Malone said.

The public’s indecision about whether to support or oppose fracking reflects the general lack of knowledge about the technology, she said.

“Education results in the formation of stronger opinions,” she said. “At a policy level, this research supports the development of a more formal and objective educational approach to discussing the benefits and drawbacks of this emerging technology. The potential economic and job benefits and the risks — such as environmental, health and social impacts as well as broader climate change implications — should all be part of the larger energy dialogue.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s chief lobbying and trade group, did not respond to requests for comment.

The paper, “ ‘Fracking’ Controversy and Communication: Using National Survey Data to Understand Public Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing,” was published this week in the journal Energy Policy.

Related Content 
Voters in Colorado, Ohio Cities Say No to Fracking 
Fracking May Emit Less Methane Than Previous Estimates 
Natural Gas, Efficiency Fuel U.S. Carbon Emissions Decline 
Scientists: U.S. Climate Credibility Getting Fracked 
Fracking Boom Leading to Fracking Bust: Scientists

Comments

By Michael Berndtson (Berwyn)
on November 21st, 2013

This is interesting, but kind of silly. One of the purposes of government is to act as agent between residents/citizens and commerce. If environment agencies are doing their jobs, ignorance about oil and gas development is excusable. It’s not like most of us know how the internet works. However when commerce and state agencies spy on us, our guts tell us that’s not cool. Same with fracking. When the federal agency (USEPA) is AWOL and the state agents are in on the development scheme, people get a bad feeling in their guts. Folks understanding of ultra-low permeability fluid flow isn’t a gauge of the quality of common knowledge. That’s why it would be nice to have healthy governments and intelligent governmental workers paid to do their jobs well so the rest of us can think about other things besides fracking problems.

BTW, conventional gas was never in as short of supply as spot price reflected in 2008. If it was oil and gas producers wouldn’t be flaring off gaseous hydrocarbons as waste while collecting liquids.

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By Morgan Calderon (Lake Havasu City)
on November 22nd, 2013

If you want to about how the fracking process is actively destroying our environment and even forcing people out of their homes check out GASLAND and GASLAND 2 on HBO online. There are people all over the U.S. whose lives have been ruined by fracture drilling, not to mention the damage that is being done to the environment as a whole. There is plenty of information on fracture drilling and the damage it is wreaking on our environment!

The answer are out there, but only if you are looking.

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By clinton chase (lafayette, IN 47941)
on November 22nd, 2013

Ive actually been researching this topic for school research papers for months, this is a very unknown thing for most Americans, it has had little to no news coverage, but since its government backed, there probably be keeping it on the low coverage, as it harms the environment in such a way, that it can ruin your drinking water, if you li e near a hydraulic fracturing site, but, on the contrary, this is a must for america and the new transition fuel that we need, and seeing how i live in central indianna and have already seen Two natural gas, filling stations pop up, id say its here to stay.

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By PR (Dallas, Tx)
on November 23rd, 2013

Instead of believe everything you see on TV, research the making of those “documentaries” .
And, then research the realities of fracking.  Americans are so gullible.

Reply to this comment

By scott (Minneapolis)
on November 25th, 2013

If you want misinformation about fracking, then watch GASLAND.

How many people know that diesel engines don’t have sparkplugs?  I know its irrelevant, but then so is having misinformation about fracking.  The fact is, if not for the economic gains made by fracking in the oil and gas industry, the US would still be in the depths of the Obama-Bush recession. 

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By Gil (San Antonio, TX 78259)
on February 15th, 2014

It is such a shame, the only way a lot of are people are exposed to “fracture drilling” (not a term I have ever heard in the field by the way), is through HBO or blogospheres. Let me clear some thing up for scaremongers out there, whenever you show a scary graphic of a supposed low permeability zone being fracked with well depth around 500 ft. With fracture width over a foot wide and a DRILLING RIG on the well or call the actual fracking a “DRILLING” process. You may fool those who don’t know anything about it, but anyone involved in the industry can tell right away that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! Try and look for papers or books by Michael Economides , Peter Valko and Tony Martin. Now these guys focus more on enhancing production, but I have never seen more detailed information fracking anywhere else.

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