Climate Change Center Analyzes Fracking Communication

Study focuses on impact of word choice

by 4C

We are pleased to announce the release of a new article: Public Opinion on Energy Development: the Interplay of Issue Framing, Top-of-Mind Associations, and Political Ideology. The article was written by 4C faculty member Chris Clarke, in collaboration with colleagues from Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Oregon State University, and South Dakota State University, and appears in the journal Energy Policy.

This study continues our ongoing research on public opinion on oil and gas development via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") - a practice whose potential health, economic, and environmental impacts have received considerable public, policymaker, and media attention. Recent headlines include the Department of Interior's release of new regulations for natural gas drilling on public lands, as well as New York State's decision to ban fracking as part of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale that runs underneath the state.

In the study, we examine how the framing of this issue - specifically, describing it as either fracking or shale oil or gas development - influences public perceptions. Using a nationally representative sample of Americans (n = 1,000), we find that respondents are more supportive of energy development when it is referred to as shale oil or gas development compared to "fracking." Further analysis suggests that these findings are partly explained by a tendency to associate shale oil or gas development more with positive thoughts and positive impacts, and fracking more with negative thoughts and adverse impacts.

The full article includes additional analyses and discusses the implications of our work for effective communication about the potential impacts of energy development. In particular, word choice plays an important role in highlighting specific impacts over others in the contentious debate over if and how we develop our energy resources.

Full text copies of the paper are available upon request.