The Royal Society report today grabs the headlines, but to most readers here there aren't any surprises. A much more interesting report goes behind the headlines. It's out today from the University of Nottingham and will appear in my library shortly for those who can't be dealing with Facebook. The report is called SHALE GAS EXTRACTION IN THE UK: WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK
Given the level of interest in the subject and as part of an ongoing study to investigate public perceptions of shale gas exploitation in the UK, we have undertaken three national level surveys to assess the level of knowledge and concern about shale gas and its exploitation in the UK (Table 1) . The surveys conducted by YouGov were undertaken in March, April and June 2012. Given the considerable interest in this issue we considered it pertinent to publish the broad findings from these surveys.
I posted on the first survey last week, but now we have three. One key finding is a general level of ignorance, starting with a substantial amount of the population being unaware.
In the survey we start by asking respondents the following: This is a fossil fuel, found in sedimentary rock normally more than 1000 metres below ground. It is extracted using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking'. Is this fossil fuel:
a) Boromic gas
c) Xenon gas
d) Shale gas
e) Tar-sand oil
f) Don't know.
The important word association in this question was the term ‘fracking’ which is almost always referred to in reports about shale gas. In our March survey a mere 38% of respondents correctly identified shale gas from the list of real and imaginary fossil fuels. Around the same proportion (39%) were ‘don’t knows’, and 17% believed the fossil fuel was ‘coal’ – the next most popular choice after shale. Recognition rose some 7% to nearly 45% in the April survey which was conducted shortly after the release of the Preese Hall Report7 (which resulted in a signifcant level of media interest and a flurry of reports (Fig. 1)), but this fell to just over 40% in the June survey (Fig.2).
So by June 60% of respondents hadn't even heard of shale gas....
Interestingly, men were almost twice as likely as women to identify shale gas, and while the level of recognition rose to roughly 7% for both men and women between the March and April surveys, in June the level of recognition by women fell to below the level recorded in March. Although the percentage of male respondents who correctly identified shale gas also fell between the April and June surveys the fall was significantly less than for women, with over 55% of all males who responded to the survey in June being able to identify shale gas.
Many environmentalistas plead against shale on the grounds of protecting future generations, but they seem to be in the not interested category:
Data indicate that younger people were the least likely to identify shale gas, and that there is a strong positive correlation between age and the the level of recognition.
The following figures reflect the answers of people who were even aware of shale, the 60% by June, yet
The vast majority of respondents associated shale gas with earthquakes, with the figure rising from just under 59% in March to nearly 71% in April, but falling back to under 65% in the June survey. A signficant number of people also associate shale gas with water contamination, although this figure dropped from 44.5% to less than 41% between March and April. It is clear that a significant proportion (around 44-45%) of the people surveyed do not consider shale gas to be a clean fuel. It is worth noting that the proportion of respondents that stated that they associated shale gas with being a clean energy or did not know whether it was clean or not was similar and remained so in both March and April. In general respondents consider shale gas to be a cheap form of energy and although there are some variations at the regional level, for the country as a whole this figure rose from 40.5% to 44.5% between the two polls.
Interestingly, on drinking water:
There are considerable concerns that the extraction of shale gas could result in the contamination of drinking water sources either by chemicals used in fracking fluids and/or by methane escape as a result of the fracking process itself. The issues and debates around drinking water contamination have been widely reported in the media (often with reference to the controversial film Gasland) and it is clear that a large number of repondents to our survey associate the two together. This said there appears to be increasing uncertainty on this issue with the proportion of respondents that believe there is an association between the two falling from 45% to 40% over the period with an increasing number of people stating that they don’t know. The number of people who do not consider there to be a link between the two also increased and stood at 27% in June
BTW, I love to see no use of the "controversial" modifier on shale but they do use it on Gasland. While still a big number, the poisoned water fears seem to be receding slightly and for that we should be thankful. But the benefits message of shale in just not getting through, or being put across, in it's capactiy to reduce emissions:
The poll respondents were also asked about their views on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Significantly, a plurality of respondents stated that they don’t know whether shale gas had a positive or negative impact on GHG emissions, with the figure varying between 46% and 48% of those surveyed. An almost equal number of respondents in the March survey stated that shale gas would result in either lower or higher GHG emissions but since then there has been a subtle shift in people’s views with an increasing proportion of respondents being of the view that shale gas will result in lower GHG emissions
Where does this all end?:
Our surveys indicate that despite the growing level of interest in shale gas in the UK and the flurry of media attention in recent months well over half of the people that we surveyed are neither aware of this resource nor the controversies that are emerging around it. Although the majority of respondents who are able to identify shale gas associated it with earthquakes, it is clear from our surveys that there is a high level of uncertainty as to the exact implications of its extraction and use on the environment. While there are concerns that shale gas may result in the contamination of drinking water and that it is not a ‘clean’ fuel, these views are not held by the majority. Moreover there is an indication that people's concerns are shifting with an increasing number of people seeing shale gas a cheap fuel - the majority of the people who we surveyed who could identify shale gas believe we should be allowed to extract natural gas from shale deposits in the UK. On greenhouse gas emissions, there is again a high level of uncertainty, with a clear plurality of ‘don’t knows’ in all three surveys. Amongst those who do state a belief, we see a small trend towards the view that shale gas would lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, shale gas appears to be a fuel source over which the public has yet to make up its mind.
However, there is an encouraging point
In the June survey we added an additional question asking individuals who had identified shale gas to state whether they thought that extracting natural gas from shale should be allowed. Nearly 53% of all respondents were in favour with a further 20% stating that they did not know. Only 27% of our respondents stated that natural gas should not be extracted from shale. The difference between male and female respondents was again significant. Whereas just over 60% of men stated that natural gas extraction from shale should be allowed, the figure for women was less than 37% with just over 30% stating that they did not know
Of those who do know about shale gas at all, there is actually a two to one majority in favour of shale. So the "controversy" lies where exactly?