The government cannot be trusted to regulate shale gas, according to more than 40% of people surveyed by Cardiff University. Just over 20% were confident that the government would do an adequate job.The rest didn’t know.
Shale gas was the least popular form of energy among respondents, who were more aware of potential risks than benefits. Just over half of those questioned were concerned that shale gas extraction would contaminate water.
But most people surveyed were ambivalent about shale gas and said they knew little about it. When shown information about the potential benefits of shale gas, respondents were more likely to become positive about it.
The unpublished findings were reported this afternoon at the Shale World UK conference in Birmingham.
They are based on an online survey of 1,457 people carried out in August 2014. The respondents were selected from three UK regions: Lancashire, where high volume hydraulic fracturing was carried out at one well; South Wales, where geology is suitable for fracking; and North/Mid Wales and the West Midlands, where the geology is unsuitable.
One of the researchers, Dr Nick Nash, told the conference people who did not have strong attitudes about shale would be the most susceptible to persuasive information, from either pro or anti fracking sources.
“Those with strong green values are likely to be difficult to persuade of the benefits of shale gas unless it can be successfully framed as relatively environmentally benign”, he said.
Among those surveyed, women, older people, those with left-of-centre views and newspaper readers were more concerned about fracking. Those in favour were likely to be men, hold right-wing views, be sceptical about climate change, and have a lower identity with the environment, Dr Nash said.
Most people knew only a little about most energy technologies and a majority of respondents said they knew very little about shale gas. They were most familiar with coal, conventional gas, wind and solar.
Shale gas was rated favourable by about 20% of people surveyed and unfavourable by about 40%. It was the most unfavourable form of energy, followed by nuclear. Solar and wind were rated the most favourable. But most participants rated shale as “neither favourable nor unfavourable”. And most people were also ambivalent about carbon capture and storage and underground coal gasification.
Respondents from Lancashire appeared to be more positive about shale gas than people in the other areas. But Dr Nash said the difference was explained not by where participants lived but by their political outlooks.
Generally, people didn’t have very highly developed views on shale gas fracking, either for or against, Dr Nash said. “But a significant proportion of people disagreed that the government would adequately regulate shale gas in the UK.” (Second line from the bottom of the chart).
About 35% thought the risks of shale gas outweighed the benefits, compared with about 25% who thought the reverse. Just over 10% thought benefits and risks were about the same and 25% didn’t know.
Where should fracking be allowed?
Participants were asked to say where they thought shale gas should be extracted in UK regions where deposits had been identified. Dr Nash said “People appeared ambivalent about where fracking should take place. But 42% said it shouldn’t happen anywhere.”