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14.09.2018 | Original Article | Ausgabe 6/2018 Open Access

Energy, Ecology and Environment 6/2018

Public perceptions of shale gas in the UK: framing effects and decision heuristics

Energy, Ecology and Environment > Ausgabe 6/2018
Harry McNally, Peter Howley, Matthew Cotton


Using two equivalent descriptions of the shale gas development process, we asked individuals to indicate their levels of support as well as their perceptions of the risks and costs involved. In version 1, shale gas development was framed as ‘fracking’, whereas under version 2 it was framed as ‘using hydraulic pressure to extract natural gas from the ground’. We find that individuals’ support for shale gas development is much lower when using the term ‘fracking’ as opposed to the synonymous descriptive term, and moreover, these differences were substantive. Our analysis suggests that these differences appear to be largely the result of different assessments of the risks associated with ‘fracking’ as opposed to ‘using hydraulic pressure to extract natural gas from the ground’. Our proposed explanation for these differences rests on the idea that shale gas development is a technical and complex process and many individuals will be bounded by the rationality of scientific knowledge when it comes to understanding this process. In turn, individuals may be relying on simple decision heuristics shaped by the way this issue is framed by the media and other interested parties which may constrain meaningful discourse on this topic with the public. Our findings also highlight some of the potential pitfalls when it comes to relying on survey research for assessing the public’s views towards complex environmental issues.

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