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Protests about hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') of shale gas have taken place in several countries including the UK.

Major new project to understand public attitudes and community responses to shale gas in the UK

The ASSIST (Attitudes to Shale gaS In Space and Time) project is led by academics at Exeter, Stirling, Edinburgh, Heriot Watt and Cardiff Universities that will shed light on how public responses to shale gas unfold over time at national, regional and local levels.

Protests about hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') of shale gas have taken place in several countries including the UK. Therefore, understanding public attitudes and community responses to shale gas development is a key social science research area, with relevance for communities directly affected by shale gas projects, for developers' 'social license to operate' and for UK policy on energy and climate change.

Given government support for shale gas, local controversy and community objections, it is very important to have a rigorous social science evidence base,” said Professor Devine-Wright, Principal Investigator.

That has not been the case up to now in the UK. This research will provide important evidence for communities and civil society, industry and policy makers in order to better understand public attitudes and community responses to shale gas. 

The proposed research will develop new understandings by integrating perspectives from human geography and social psychology, drawing on core concepts of geographical differentiation, spatial proximity and place attachment.

The project will:

(1)  produce a comprehensive map of UK public attitudes to shale gas, charting differences between geographical areas.

(2) provide a comprehensive analysis of the effect of spatial proximity on UK public attitudes using georeferenced datasets.

(3) capture how public attitudes and community responses unfold over time, using a combination of methods including longitudinal national surveys, social media analyses and local ethnography in case study locations.

(4) critically investigate the rationales and practices of stakeholder engagement with shale gas communities, extending frameworks devised in previous research to go beyond 'NIMBY' (Not In My Back Yard) understandings of community responses.

Dr. Jennifer Dickie of Stirling University said “Understanding public attitudes and engagement with shale gas needs to consider specific geographical context. By integrating existing environmental and economic datasets with new data arising from national surveys, social media and case studies, this project will explore how public attitudes and community engagement might vary across geographical areas, and offer new insights on how socio-economic, political and environmental factors may shape such responses. 

Dr. Darrick Evensen, Edinburgh University said “Despite numerous surveys of public perceptions on this topic in the UK, much remains unknown.  How do perspectives differ across the UK regionally, and on the basis of community characteristics (e.g., poverty, unemployment rates, average income, political leaning)?  How do individuals’ views evolve over time in reaction to major events (e.g., impending shale gas production in England, or the advent of Brexit)? Our innovative use of multilevel data sets (including individual and community-level variables), longitudinal sampling (same individuals at three points in time), and our inclusion in our survey sample of a large number of local residents in areas exposed to development will help answer such questions.”

The project will have multiple benefits and impacts, including capacity building of less experienced researchers, engagement with national and local stakeholders from public, private and NGO sectors and the sharing of research findings that are expected to attract local, national and international interest.

The research will begin on 1st September, last for 3 years, and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Date: 28 September 2018