Two leading academics called this afternoon for independent funding for research into community engagement and public attitudes to shale gas.
But their call came with a warning: academics can’t compensate for the inadequacies of government and industry to talk to the public.
Speaking at the Shale UK conference in Liverpool, Professor Mike Bradshaw said academics wanted to inform the debate but they could not get independent funding for social science research.
David Reinner, of University of Cambridge and the ReFine research consortium, described the lack of resources as scandalous.
“Not our role to be advocates for shale”
Academics are often urged to play a bigger role in informing the public about fracking because, it is argued, they are more trusted than government or the shale gas industry.
But Professor Bradshaw told delegates:
“It is not our role to be advocates. The role of academic research is to provide independent evidence to add to the debate. It is not our role to compensate for the inadequacies of the government or industry.
“The biggest problem we face is that we cannot get the funding from independent sources on a sufficient scale to carry out social science research.
“For whatever reason, the government is happy to spend millions on drilling but not on funding the social science research.”
Dr Reiner said:
“The lack of resources: four years into this process we are able to cobble together a little bit of funding to look at this. It is scandalous.”
“Royal Society recommendation not realised”
Professor Bradshaw said the report by the Royal Society, used by the government as an endorsement of fracking, had recommended a cross-council programme of research involving social, earth and engineering sciences. But he said:
“Nothing has been done to realise that recommendation. We are anxious to play a role to inform the debate but there simply isn’t the funding. But if we were to do it, it would not be as advocates.”
“Lack of genuine consultation”
Dr Reiner said the difficult job of convincing people about shale gas had been exacerbated by the government championing the industry when, he said, it should have been a neutral arbitrator. He also criticised what he said was a lack of genuine consultation and neutral engagement with communities in potential shale gas areas.
“It is remarkably inconsistent that you have a government that is claiming to want to set up a sovereign wealth fund based on this vast revenue from shale gas but everything they have done in terms of engaging with even sympathetic minded organisations, both government and industry, have done a dreadful job of this.”
He said it was not surprising that people mistrusted shale.
“If you look at the Secretary of State calling in the decision [on Cuadrilla’s fracking applications in Fylde] that understandably sets off alarm bells that this is all decided. This is just a ruse and this is not a genuine consultation. ”
Graham Dean, Managing Director of Reach Coal Seam Gas, said the industry was co-operative, while Jonathan Foster, of Petroleum Safety Services, defended the record on consultation and public engagement.
But Jackie Copley, planning manager for the Lancashire branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The industry should give the public a bit of credit”. She said people were amazingly well-informed.
“With all due respect, the Let’s Talk About Shale initiative [by the industry body UKOOG] that I saw was really quite patronising.”