21st May 2014
The latest opinion poll on fracking confirms women are far more likely than men to oppose the technique – just as the head of the UK’s leading fracking company urges the industry to win women’s confidence.
The most recent survey in Nottingham University’s on-going research into public attitudes to fracking released on Tuesday showed for the first time that overall support had fallen below 50%. But among women it was down at 34%.
Professor Sarah O’Hara, the project coordinator, told a fracking conference in London: “We are seeing a fairly significant gender divide”.
When asked if fracking should be allowed in Britain, 40% of women said no, while 34% said yes. Pie charts shown to the conference, but not included in the published report, show that support among men stands at about 60%, compared with about less than a quarter who opposed fracking.
The survey found the difference continued when participants were asked other questions about fracking. Professor O’Hara said: “If I do a gender analysis, men are much more in favour, they think it is cleaner, they think it is less likely to be associated with earthquakes or water contamination.”
The disparity between men and women may be even larger than the figures suggest because the number of women who said “don’t know” was also higher than for men. Professor O’Hara said of women: “If they are not absolutely sure of something they will tend to say they ‘don’t know’, rather than express an opinion”.
Other measures of public opinion about fracking have also produced gender differences. A YouGov poll for the renewables company, Ecotricity, asked people whether they would prefer a fracking site over a wind farm near their home. The results, published last month (April 2014), found that only 9% of women would prefer a fracking site over a wind farm, compared with 29% of men. A self-selecting survey for the Manchester Evening News found 89% of women opposed fracking, compared with 68% of men.
Private polling for IGas, the company which carried out exploratory drilling at Barton Moss in Salford, also found negative views of fracking were very heavily represented by women, according to its chief executive, Andrew Austin. He told the Shale Gas World conference last week: “One of the biggest areas is getting the confidence of the women of Britain.”
Women appear more likely to object to oil and gas operations, even if they do not involve fracking. InvestigatingBalcombeAndCuadrilla.com analysed objections to Cuadrilla’s latest planning application to flow test its well at Balcombe. For objections where the gender was known, 62% were from women, compared with 38% from men.
Why do women oppose fracking?
So why are women more likely to reject the idea of fracking? Psychotherapist, Ro Randall suggests that the language of the oil industry may play some part. She says the word ‘fraking’ was popularised in the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica as a euphemism for the f-word. The current term ‘fracking’ was almost certainly adopted by men, she said, and plays into a view of the earth as something to be objectified and exploited.
Professor O’Hara suggested that women were more risk averse than men. A report in Energy Policy last year said women’s role as caregivers may make them more opposed to fracking sites.
Andrew Austin had a similar explanation. He told the overwhelmingly male audience at Shale Gas World: “Women are the ones that regulate the sustainable side of things of any nation. It is in their DNA.”
Reaction from women
His comment: “We have to give them confidence” has provoked some furious reactions from women anti-fracking campaigners.
Vanessa Vine, founder of Britain and Ireland Frack Free, said of Mr Austin:
“You are shamefully misusing your intelligence and making a huge mistake in reducing us to a demographic to be patronised and mollified. Your reprehensible underhand plan will fail, as will shale”
Commentators on our conference report wrote:
“The countryside is our birthright. Does he think women are so stupid they will be won over by a mess of pottage?”
“Such arrogance from Andrew Austin. Does he think women are so gullible as to be taken in by his spin on the fracking issue? So, the answer is to put a better offer on the table? Throw a bit of cash at people to shut them up? The best offer from Andrew Austin would be to go away, we don’t want fracking! You do not have our confidence and your battle will be lost not won at local level!”
On Facebook, two women wrote:
“The women of Britain will stand against fracking Mr Austin and not very politely request you to indulge any taste you may have for sex and travel.”
“Hell hath no fury like a woman whose children are under attack. Austin’s powers ain’t got nothing on ours!!”
We asked Mr Austin, through his female PR, why he thought women were against fracking and what he planned to do about it. The response was:
‘Mr Austin supports the polling evidence from a number of independent sources. We have engaged with Mumsnet and have a programme of initiatives that reach out to a number of target audiences’.
- Mumsnet carried a debate between Mr Austin and Caroline Lucas MP last September
- The poll for Nottingham University questioned 3,650 people on May 12th 2014. The survey asked participants a question to assess their basic knowledge of fracking. Only those that answered correctly continued to the remaining questions.
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