As the government considers the future of fracking in England, a new study has revealed little support for a change of policy.
The shale gas industry and its supporters have called for a lifting of the two-and-a-half year old moratorium on fracking in England imposed because of concerns about earthquakes. They also want a relaxation of the regulations on fracking-induced seismicity.
The study, published this week in Scientific Reports, tested for the first time whether giving people information about seismic events would influence their support for policy changes. It also investigated whether the cause or description of a seismic event affected public attitudes.
Its publication comes as the UK government is considering a review of the science on fracking by the British Geological Survey (BGS). This was submitted to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, yesterday.
The industry has long argued that if people knew more about fracking they would be more positive. It has also claimed that the rules on seismicity for fracking were unfair and should be brought into line with construction, geothermal energy or quarrying.
But the study, by researchers at five UK universities and the BGS, challenged these arguments. It found that people opposed:
- lifting the moratorium on fracking in England
- relaxing the regulations, known as the traffic light system, which requires fracking to stop if it led to seismic events of 0.5 or more on the local magnitude scale
The study found that giving people information or changing the way information was framed had little or no effect on their support for policy change or attitude to induced seismicity.
People who were told that the seismicity limits were higher in other countries remained opposed to relaxing the traffic light system.
The study concluded that people were significantly more opposed to seismic events induced by shale gas extraction than those caused by geothermal energy, quarrying or natural tectonic movements.
It also found that people were opposed to the existence of seismic events, rather than their effects. People responded negatively to seismic events from shale gas operations that could be felt but did not cause damage.
People were also no more likely to oppose shale gas operations if induced seismic events were described as micro-seismicity than earthquakes, the study found.
People in the north of England, where there is more potential for shale gas, were more likely to support policy change than people living in the south. But opinion was more divided in areas that were generally more supportive of policy change, the study found.
It also found that just 12% of people reported trusting the shale gas industry a fair amount or a great deal.
“No role for shale gas”
The researchers said:
“we do not foresee a role for shale gas in the UK’s energy future”.
They said the length of time needed for commercial production was too long to help with short-term supply issues. In the long term, they said, shale gas would conflict with the UK’s net zero targets.
MPs in shale gas areas were not in favour of renewed exploration, the researchers said, despite concerns about supply problems caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They added:
“Any attempts to change the policy landscape to make hydraulic fracturing hydraulic fracturing viable by increasing the seismicity limit would likely be met with stark resistance.”
- The study carried out three rounds of public attitude surveys with YouGov online panels from 2019-2021, before and after the 2.9ML earthquake at Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road. The authors were from universities of Stirling, Bath, Exeter, Heriot-Watt, and Edinburgh and the British Geological Survey.