High-profile protests against fracking, such as those in Balcombe this summer, may have had an adverse effect on the public perception of shale gas

Support for fracking slips after protests

Recent anti-fracking protests may have done the trick after public support for shale gas drilling slips since the summer.

A study by the University of Nottingham showed the number of people concerned about water contamination from shale extraction had increased, while fewer associated it with "clean" energy, compared to a previous survey before the protests in Balcombe, West Sussex.

The proportion who viewed shale as a cheap fuel had fallen, while overall support for giving fracking a green light in the UK had also declined slightly over the summer, which saw high profile protests against the controversial energy source.

The latest results, the seventh round of polling by the university on shale in the past 18 months, have seen a reverse in a trend that had seen a steady increase in support for the unconventional gas, the university said.

Professor Matthew Humphrey, from the university's school of political and international relations, said: "Our surveys indicate that significantly more people are aware of shale gas compared to 16 months ago.

"More substantively, up to September 2013 the survey data showed that, amongst those of the public who recognised shale gas from the opening question, there was an increasing acceptance of it as a cheap, clean energy source, although it is important to add that this was a trend, not necessarily a majority view.

"It is interesting that, in the first survey subsequent to the protests at Balcombe, we see this trend go into reverse on most measures.

"This may have important implications for the politics of fracking in the UK, if the anti-fracking lobby come to believe that highly visible forms of protest at potential sites for hydraulic fracturing are the most effective means of changing the public mood."

In March 2012, the number of people associating shale gas with potential water contamination was at 44.5 per cent, a figure which declined to 35.2 per cent in July 2013 but rose again to 41.4 per cent in the latest results for September.

The proportion who associated shale gas with clean energy had declined from 33.5 per cent in July this year to 30.8 per cent in September.

In July this year, before the Balcombe protests, the number of people who did not associate shale gas with clean energy was 36.5 per cent, down from 44.8 per cent in March 2012 – but it rose again after the protests to 41.7 per cent.

Most people continue to say they do not know whether the use of shale gas will lead to lower or higher greenhouse gas emissions, with those who believe it will lead to lower emissions outstripping those who say they will rise since April 2012.

But the percentage who believed it would lead to higher emissions increased in the last survey compared to July.

The proportion of people who associate earthquakes with fracking has continued to decline from a high in April 2012 of 71 per cent to the current figure of 52.6 per cent. More than half of those polled still associated shale gas with being a cheap fuel, but the figure has fallen from 55 per cent in July to 51.7 per cent in September.

Overall, the majority of people still support allowing extraction of shale gas in the UK, but the figure has declined from a high of 58.3 per cent in July to 54.1 per cent in September, the University of Nottingham study shows.

In the latest poll, shale gas ranks bottom in 10 energy sources people think should be part of the energy mix in 2025, below nuclear, coal, oil and conventional gas, all of which fall below all renewables including wind in terms of public support.

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