Who is wining the fracking argument?

Two discussions of the shale industry yesterday revealed very different views on the fight for public acceptance.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas, meeting in Westminster, heard claims from government and industry representatives that they were winning the argument over fracking.

But speakers at a conference on energy planning, also in London, heard that the public continued to perceive fracking as harmful.

The APPG heard from Ken Cronin, the chief executive of the onshore operators’ group UKOOG. He said public acceptance was one of his organisation’s priorities.

“All of the research shows over 50 per cent support for shale. Not only our research but others. Yes I think we are winning the argument.

“We have done quite a lot of work with local communities. We recognise that in this area the industry needs to improve in terms of communication. We will continue to do so as an industry body, as well as individual operators. You have to explain what you are doing: what are the risks and what the benefits are.”

Duarte Figuero, of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, also told the APPG: “The Nottingham [University] survey shows a strong push in terms of support“.

“People will pick up on messages that reinforce their view”

Across London a different picture emerged. Planning lawyer, Richard Glover, told the Planning for Energy Infrastructure conference that the shale industry had misread public feeling early on and had been “slow off the mark”.

“The problem now is the psychology. People will only hear the message that reinforces the view that they already hold.

“The developers can have lots of lovely meetings and have lots of websites but there is mistrust. People will only pick up on messages that reinforces their own view.”

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, planning advisor to Friends of the Earth, said operators were still not providing enough information in their planning applications. It was also difficult for people to establish which voices were independent, she said.

Peter Chadwick, head of county planning at Hampshire County Council, said the industry had been “caught on the hop” when the issues were first raised and had never managed to catch up.

“The furore that descended on them: that was not what they had been expecting”.

Mr Chadwick said although operators were providing more information in their planning applications, they needed to allay fears about the way wells were engineered and how sites operated.

“It is going to be very difficult for the industry to respond to the perception now that fracking is harmful. I think they will have a lot of difficulty with that.

UK Public opinion surveys

DECC’s latest Wave Tracker survey (November 2014): support for shale gas 26%, opposition to shale gas 27%; neither support nor oppose 76% Our report

Nottingham University’s latest public perceptions survey of shale gas (September 2014): shale gas should be allowed 50%, shale gas should not be allowed 30%; don’t know 20% Our report

Update on Let’s Talk About Shale

Ken Cronin gave details about the results of UKOOG’s Let’s Talk About Shale initiative, which invited people to ask questions of the industry. Mr Cronin said the project had distributed 200,000 post cards to people in north west England and the east midlands. It had also invited people to submit questions through its website and touring roadshows. The initiative collected a total of 1,560 comments and questions. Of the 700 questions, the largest number was about energy security, followed by water contamination.

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