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The Surprising Fact About Public Opinion on Fracking The Surprising Fact About Public Opinion on Fracking

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The Surprising Fact About Public Opinion on Fracking

Many believe the public is divided into two camps on hydraulic fracturing. But there's a third—and it's larger than the other two combined.

Many believe the American public is divided on the subject of hydraulic fracturing between those who think it too risky environmentally and those who think it too important economically.

But there's a third camp—and it's larger than the other two combined: Those who know nothing about it or have no opinion.


Recent public opinion research shows that Americans aren't so much divided on the issue of fracking as they are unaware of it and the enormous role it's now playing in the U.S. economy and industrial sector.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans either don't know or are undecided about fracking, according to an in-depth study of public opinion on the drilling technique published last October by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason and Yale Universities.

When asked for "top of mind" associations with fracking, another 58 percent of respondents indicated that they didn't know anything about the issue or couldn't come up with anything relevant.


"Broadly speaking," the researchers wrote, "our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware of and undecided about this issue."

The study also confirmed what many other polls have shown: Among the minority of people who have formed an opinion on fracking, opinion is about evenly split between support and opposition. Twenty percent of respondents in the study were either somewhat or strongly opposed, while 22 percent were either somewhat or strongly supportive.

This patchwork of uncertainty stands in stark contrast to Americans' feelings about natural gas generally.

Setting aside the method of extraction, Americans profess overwhelming support for natural gas. Last fall, the University of Texas at Austin's ongoing Energy Poll found that more than 80 percent of Americans say the federal government should focus on developing more natural gas.

Clear majorities of those surveyed also identified an array of benefits they associate with domestic natural gas production, including job creation (68 percent), lower costs (68 percent), greater energy security (64 percent), increased energy efficiency (64 percent), increased manufacturing (61 percent) and lower carbon emissions (57 percent).

"What we're seeing is the real disconnect between energy and the American public," Sheril Kirshenbaum, energy poll director for the University of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. "In some instances, ideology may influence attitudes, but there's unquestionably a lack of understanding across a broad swath of energy issues that affect each of us."

In fact, most Americans have no idea that an energy boom is even underway. Only 48 percent correctly say that U.S. energy production has increased in recent years, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found.

Although public opinion on fracking remains largely up for grabs, opinion in states where the practice is taking place seems to be tilting toward support.

In Colorado, for example, a 51 percent majority were found to support hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil, compared with 34 percent who are opposed, according to a November poll by Quinnipiac.

Similarly, a 2012 Quinnipiac poll found that 64 percent of Ohioans believed that the benefits of fracking outweighed the risks.

Research on public opinion about fracking in Michigan and Pennsylvania likewise concluded that citizens hold "generally positive views about the contributions that fracking for natural gas has provided their states."

"The majority of citizens in both states respond that fracking has provided and will continue to provide more benefits than problems for their state," the researchers from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion found in their May 2013 study. "Overwhelming majorities in both states believe that hydraulic fracturing is very or somewhat important to their state's economy."

The prescription seems to be that Americans don't need more arguments for or against hydraulic fracturing—they simply need more information.

Or as the October 2013 public opinion study concluded: "Fracking is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the nation's energy future; therefore it is high time to pursue a wide-ranging and inclusive public dialog about its potential risks and benefits."