'Fracking', Framing and Effective Participation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: University of Sussex Business School

Abstract

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.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

Possible beneficiaries of the research include policy makers, industry actors, regulators, planners, 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 public controversies over technology more broadly.

How might they benefits from this research?

Policy makers will benefit from the research due to the provisions of an updated and extended understanding of nature and extent of the socio-political challenges facing shale gas development in the UK arising from its public acceptability and ongoing policy contestation. Furthermore, policy makers will benefit from an assessment of the effectiveness of formal processes of public engagement and participation to address these challenges. Industry actors may benefit from this research by gaining insights into the effectiveness of industry public engagement in resolving issues around public acceptability. Insights will be produced around the kinds of practices and engagement designs likely to help or hinder the establishment of community support. Similarly, insights will also be produced on public participation in planning and regulatory decision making processes that will benefit regulators. This will in include an assessment of how well these processes 'accommodate' public views and how this interacts with public and community acceptability. Environmental NGOs and members of the public, finally, will benefit from the knowledge produced about their ability to have an influence on policy and decisions through formal processes of public engagement and participation. Furthermore, environmental NGOs may find insights regarding the process of policy framing struggles and how they shape policy decisions of use. Local public groups in the case study region, finally, may find comparisons between local community and general public perceptions instructive and may also benefit from a better understanding of the policy and planning processes surrounding shale gas development.

To ensure these insights reach their target beneficiary, the project has developed a programme of targeted activities described in the 'pathways to impact' section in more detail. In short, key policy makers and other stakeholder will be engaged through participation in an independent advisory group, by producing policy briefs, and organising a launch event in London. Engaging with the general public will occur through research team members contributing to the public debate through news and social media channels. Finally, local communities will be invited to an informal event in the case study region.
 
Description Findings from the paper 'The discursive politics of 'fracking': Frames, storylines, and the anticipatory contestation of shale gas development in the United Kingdom' were send out as a press release and reported by several industry publications. The main conclusions of a deadlocked debate between pro and anti-fracking proponents helped explain the direction of public discourse for both industry and policy readers.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Energy
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Bloomberg Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Quotes in an article on Fracking regulations in the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-16/frackers-in-u-k-get-fresh-hope-government-will-lo...
 
Description Drillordrop.com Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Article based on press release on first paper of this project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://drillordrop.com/2019/08/06/uk-fracking-debate-likely-to-stay-deadlocked-as-neither-side-make...
 
Description Energy Live Article on Fracking Debate Research Conducted by Sussex 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Energy Live article produced after circulation of press release on first paper from the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.energylivenews.com/2019/08/06/fracking-debate-deadlock-likely-to-continue-as-neither-sid...
 
Description Energy Voice Article Comment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Comments on UK Government and fracking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.energyvoice.com/oilandgas/205741/frackers-in-uk-get-fresh-hope-government-will-loosen-ru...
 
Description Laurence Williams presented at Warwick Business School's Warwick Energy Security Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Laurence Williams presented at Warwick Business School's Warwick Energy Security Forum on 'Future UK Gas Security: the role of shale gas' (31 January 2019)

Invitation only stakeholder event (approx.. 50 attendees), audience comprised of a mix of stakeholders (industry, policy, academia, think-tank, NGO)

Useful networking with industry in particular - building relationship, access to interviewees and engagement processes for future phases of project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Media article published in Energy World magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Media article - published in Energy World magazine (paywall), entitled 'The public
perception of fracking'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://research.ncl.ac.uk/media/sites/researchwebsites/2ukuh/Energy%20World%20Dec%2018.pdf
 
Description Research Brief on Public Perceptions of Fracking 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Research brief explaining frames of research on fracking in public perception
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.ukuh.org/publications/GEC%20paper%20UKUH%202%20pdf.pdf
 
Description Research discussed during panel at the Royal Geographical Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Research discussed during panel on 'fracking and shale gas: the evolving landscape' at the Royal Geographical Society conference in Cardiff (31 August 2018).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2018
 
Description Research presented at 'Fracking Europe. Multidisciplinary perspectives on a checkered technology' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Research presented at 'Fracking Europe. Multidisciplinary perspectives on a checkered technology' workshop in Augsburg (8-9 November 2018)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018