Researchers behind Nottingham University’s long-running survey of public attitudes to shale gas extraction say the turn against fracking after the Balcombe protests has bottomed-out – but deep-seated unease about fracking remains.
In the latest survey of public perceptions of shale gas in the UK published today, there are signs of a slight recovery in approval for fracking. It rose from below 50% in May 2014 to just above 50% this month.
But the study found that shale gas was the least supported of 10 different energy resources. It also found that concerns raised at last summer’s Balcombe anti-fracking protests, particularly about water contamination, remain major issues, particularly among women.
The authors said: “The sense of unease with the environmental implications of fracking is still a very live issue for the British public”.
- A majority of respondents still think fracking should be allowed in the UK
- A majority of respondents believe shale gas would deliver economic benefits
- Shale gas is the least supported of 10 different energy resources
- 45% of respondents associated shale gas with water contamination
- Water contamination was the most mentioned of all the important issues relating to shale gas
- Conservative and UKIP voters were more likely to support shale gas than Labour, Lib Dem or Green Party voters
Support or opposition
In June 2012 researchers found that 52.6% of respondents thought shale gas should be allowed in the UK and 27% did not. A year later, just before the Balcombe protests, the figures were 53.8% in favour and 18.8% against. By May 2014 support for shale gas had fallen below 50% for the first time and opposition had increased to 31. The latest figures put support back to 50% and opposition on 30%.
Part of UK energy mix
Shale gas got the lowest levels of support among 10 different energy resources that should be included in the UK’s energy mix. There was very high support for tidal and solar (above 90%), as well as hydropower and wind (above 85%). Conventional gas was viewed more favourably than other fossil fuels. But shale lagged significantly behind and since July 2013 support has fallen to make it the least popular.
Association with water contamination
In the latest survey, 45% of respondents said they associated shale gas with water contamination – a small but continuing rise since the Balcombe protests. Water contamination was the single biggest issue for respondents when they were asked to rank issues on a scale from 0-10. 57% said water contamination was a very important consideration for them.
The association of fracking with earthquakes has fallen since its peak in April 2012 (when it stood at over 70%) and is now at 49%.
51% said they regarded shale gas as a cheap energy, compared with 27% who do not. When asked what was the most important issue about shale, energy costs was the second most often mentioned.
The researchers said “the public has not been convinced by industry claims that shale gas is a clean energy”. In March 2012, 25% regarded shale gas as clean, compared with 45% who did not. In July 2013, 34% regarded it as clean, compared with 37% who did not. In the latest survey, 29% associated shale gas with clean energy, compared with 46% who did not.
Just under 50% now associate shale with energy security, compared with 58% when the question was first asked a year ago. The number that do not associate shale with energy security is now at 27%, its highest level since the question was first asked.
Greenhouse gas emissions
When asked whether shale gas would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in every survey the largest proportion of respondents said “don’t know”. Until Balcombe, the number of respondents who thought it would lower ghg emissions was rising. That rise has continued but since Balcombe there has also been a rise in the numbers who say they believe shale gas will result in higher ghg emissions and a fall in the numbers saying don’t know. Don’t knows now stand at around 40%, those associating shale gas with lower ghg emissions about 32% and those associating with higher ghg emissions about 28%.
For the first time, the survey asked people about economic benefits. Just under 61% said it would be a benefit, compared with just under 20% who said it would not. Men were far more likely to view shale gas as having potential benefits (nearly 70%) than women (less than 50%)
The survey found that people who intend to vote Conservative or UKIP were far more supportive of shale gas extraction than Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party. Among Labour voters, only 23% of women supported shale exploitation, compared with 46% of men.
Basic knowledge of the subject dropped slightly between May and September 2014 but 72% still correctly associated shale gas with fracking, compared with only 38% in the first survey in March 2012. Men were more likely to correctly link the two words (82%) than women (64%) and that gap has been consistent throughout the surveys.
Research was carried out from 9th-11th September among 3,822 people.