UK public say no to fracking, according to study
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Public support for fracking has fallen to 37 per cent in October 2016 from 58 per cent in July 2013, according to a new study by the University of Nottingham.
The results reveal public opinion is not in line with the government, which last week approved an application of energy firm Cuadrilla to use fracking experimentally in Lancashire despite the application having been previously rejected by the local council.
The University of Nottingham has been monitoring public opinion of fracking since 2012. The latest survey, Public Attitudes to Shale Gas Extraction in the UK, found public support for fracking had dropped significantly over the past 12 months. For the first time more people were against fracking than in favour of it. Some 41 per cent of the survey’s 4,492 respondents expressed open opposition against the shale gas extraction technique that involves pumping liquid into the ground under pressure to crack the rock and release trapped gas.
“In over four years of running The University of Nottingham shale gas survey, these are the most negative overall results that we have seen, just at the time when the government has approved the UK’s first horizontally drilled well in Lancashire,” said Professor Mathew Humphrey from the School of Politics and International Relations at the University and co-director of the survey.
Since March 2012, the researchers have carried out 12 assessments, which revealed how public opinion about fracking has been evolving.
Until mid-2013, public support for fracking was on the rise. People were persuaded that the benefits, such as the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to the use of oil and coal, would outweigh the negatives, including the risk of earthquakes and water contamination.
However, following the mass protests against fracking in Balcombe, Sussex, in August 2013, the public turned around and has only become less inclined to support fracking since.
“The downturn in public attitudes that we first saw after the Balcombe protests in 2013 has persisted for far longer than we might have expected,” said Professor Sarah O’Hara from the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham and co-director of the survey. “This may partly reflect lower energy prices making the apparent need for shale gas less urgent, and so less worthy of the potential risks. The results show that the government will increasingly have its work cut out selling fracking to the UK public.”
O’Hara said that while in earlier years local environmental impacts dominated the debate, the public has now become more aware of wider implications of using shale gas for the fight against the climate change.
In the March 2012 survey, only 25.3 per cent considered shale gas to be clean, compared with 44.8 per cent who did not, giving a negative rating of -19.5 per cent. Since then, this gap has widened significantly and in September 2016 stands at nearly -26.5 per cent – the largest negative differential in the history of the survey.
The survey also asked whether shale gas should be part of the UK energy mix, alongside a range of alternatives including fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable energy sources. Since this question was first posed in July 2013, shale gas continues to lag behind other energy sources and, according to this latest survey, it remains the energy source the UK public are least likely to want in the UK’s 2025 energy mix.