project . 2018 - 2021 . Closed

'Fracking', Framing and Effective Participation

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/R018138/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 507,462 GBP
Status: Closed
30 Jun 2018 (Started) 29 Sep 2021 (Ended)

Hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') is a technology that allows the extraction of unconventional fossil fuel resources (oil and gas). The technology has been widely used in North America over the last decade but is in a much earlier stage of development in the UK. Government policy in the UK is actively encouraging the deployment of this technology and test drilling has taken place at several sites in the UK. There has been significant policy and public controversy around the use of the technology: it is simultaneously viewed by some actors as a novel and risky technology with the potential to adversely affect public health and the environment, but by others as rather more mundane and manageable. Shale gas, furthermore, is viewed by some as able to help the UK meet emissions reduction objectives but by others as hindering this task. Finally, the governance of shale gas development is also a source of conflict, with varying ideas about the ways and extent to which publics and local communities should have a say in policy and decision-making. This contested nature of shale development amongst different groups and stakeholders represents a key socio-political challenge for development in the UK. We analyse this challenge as arising from distinct ways of understanding and viewing the fracking issues ('framing') amongst different kinds of actors. We aim to improve understanding of this socio-political challenge facing shale development in the UK through an investigation of the relationships between three distinct but related research areas: public perceptions of the issue, policy debates ('frames') around shale gas and fracking, and formal processes of public engagement and participation on the matter. A nationally representative survey of public perceptions, as well as in-depth interviewing in a local community case study (the Fylde, Lancashire), will provide a better understanding of public perceptions on fracking for shale and the actors and processes of its governance, and the public acceptability of shale development in the UK. Policy debates will be analysed to better understand the arguments ('frames') put forward by advocates, their contestation, and how these debates have shaped and continue to shape UK policy. Finally, formal processes of public engagement and participation will be examined in order to assess the extent to which they help to resolve or amplify the public acceptance challenge for shale development in the UK. We are particularly interested in the relationships between these three research areas. For example, we ask, how well do policy debates reflect public views? And can the public influence decision making? Research findings will be of interest to policy makers, industry actors, regulators, environmental groups, and members of the public with an interest in the issue of fracking and shale gas development specifically, but also the issues of climate change, democracy and social controversies over technology more broadly. The primary benefit of the research will be to provide both a better understanding of the scale and nature of the social and political challenges facing shale gas development in UK, and a better understanding of the potential of public participation and engagement to help address these challenges.

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