Calls by the shale gas industry to relax the rules on earth tremors induced by fracking are not widely supported by the public, according to a new poll.
A survey of public attitudes to shale gas, conducted by academics at five universities, found that just 8% of people think the regulations are too stringent and more than a third thought they were too loose.
The regulations, known as the traffic light system, currently require companies to pause fracking if their operations cause tremors measuring 0.5 magnitude (ML) or above.
Shale gas companies, including Cuadrilla and Ineos, have said the UK industry could be commercially-viable only if the threshold was raised.
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, pointed to limits of 2.5-4ML used in other fracking regions. His company had to pause pumping operations five times at its site in Lancashire last year.
But according to the new survey, jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Economic & Social Research Council, almost half participants (48%) opposed changing the threshold from 0.5 to 1.5ML. 22% supported the change and 31% did not know.
The survey found that 37% thought the traffic light system was “far too loosely” or “somewhat loosely” regulated. 24% thought it was “about right” and 31% did not know.
56% oppose fracking
The survey found that overall opposition to shale gas extraction currently stood at 56%, with 32% in support and 12% who said they didn’t know.
These figures are very different from the government’s quarterly Wave tracker survey. Its latest results showed 35% opposed fracking, 15% supported and 47% neither supported nor opposed.
The universities’ survey found that Conservative voters were more likely to support fracking than Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Green voters.
As with the government survey, today’s results show that men were more likely to support fracking than women. They also showed that Brexit leave supporters were more likely to support shale gas extraction than remain supporters.
As a UK energy option, shale gas was supported only slightly more than Russian pipeline imports (24%), the survey found. This compared with 70% support for UK offshore gas fields, 59% for UK onshore drilling without hydraulic fracturing and 50% for European imports.
The researchers found no difference in public support across different regions or across the four UK countries. This contrasted with results in the government Wave Tracker survey which found opposition was highest in shale gas regions.
The academics found that people were no more likely to oppose shale gas if the term fracking was used.
65% of respondents did not change their opinion of shale gas extraction following presentation of information about the Treasury’s sovereign wealth fund, whilst 15% became more supportive. 20% of participants became less supportive of shale gas extraction following the presentation of information, suggesting that the sovereign wealth fund may be perceived to be a bribe by these people, the survey concluded.
According to the results, people:
- Have low trust in shale gas companies – 12% said they trusted shale gas industry groups or firms to provide information about fracking
- Want decisions taken locally – 41% said they want decisions on fracking to be taken at a local level by councils, compared with 11% who want the UK government to make decisions
- Got information from environmental organisations – 48% said they used this source sometimes or often
- Most trusted the British Geological Survey (61%) and university scientists (59%) for information about fracking
Professor Patrick Devine-Wright from the University of Exeter and the principal investigator on the dynamics of public attitudes to shale gas project says:
“It is clear from the public attitudes survey that people lack trust in the shale gas industry. While some people have already made up their minds, many others are unsure about specific details or policies. This indicates a need to provide better quality information and scientific evidence that people can trust.”
“The UK energy industry and government must address these public concerns and lack of trust about shale gas extraction. Community engagement and support is vital to tackle the environment and climate emergency and we will not make progress unless people feel they can trust the information provided or have a voice in decision-making.”
Dr Darrick Evensen, of the University of Edinburgh, the lead researcher on the survey, said:
“This is the most comprehensive and rigorous study of public attitudes on shale gas extraction in the UK to date. Due to this being a longitudinal survey, we will be able to track how public support changes over time at national, regional and local levels, and the relationship between support and key issues, such as trust and perceptions of regulations that govern the fracking industry.
“We will conduct a further survey in 2020 to investigate opinion change over time amongst the same participants. We also intend to investigate how social media affects public attitudes to shale gas and conduct local case study research in communities directly impacted by proposals for exploratory drilling.”
The survey was conducted in April 2019 by YouGov using an online panel with 2,777 people broadly representing the population of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.