Perception of the Natural Gas Industry and Engagement in Individual Civic Actions*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Data collected in a general population survey from a random sample of individuals in Tarrant County, Texas, were used to empirically examine issues associated with public perception of the natural gas industry. Further, the associations of public perception of the energy industry with individual actions that (a) may or may not have been taken and/or (b) may or may not be taken in response to the exploration and production of natural gas were investigated. Echoing findings from research in two neighboring Barnett Shale counties (Theodori 2009), members of the public in Tarrant County appear to dislike certain potentially problematic social and/or environmental issues perceived to accompany natural gas development. Conversely, these same Tarrant County residents view less negatively the economic and/or service-related benefits that often result from such development. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that the social/environmental perceptual variable is a key factor in explaining past behaviors and predicting future behaviors taken in response to the exploration and production of natural gas. Possible implications of these findings are proposed.

An extensive rural sociological literature exists on the social, economic, and social-psychological consequences-both positive and negative-associated with energy development (Jacquet 2009). The data for many of these studies were collected in the "boomtowns" of the intermountain West or in communities in the coastal region of Louisiana. Over the past five years, a new body of empirical research on energy development has begun to accrue in the rural sociological literature. These studies have focused on the experiences and perceptions of various stakeholders-including, but not limited to, community leaders, landowner coalition leaders, and members of the public-with respect to shale gas development (e.g., Anderson and Theodori 2009; Brasier et al. 2011; Jacquet and Stedman 2011; Schafft, Borlu, and Glenna 2013; Theodori 2009, 2012; Wynveen 2011).

Shale gas development is a controversial form of energy development (Marsa 2011; Walsh 2011). At the center of the shale gas debate is the well stimulation/completion process known as hydraulic fracturing (Finkel and Law 2011; Rahm 2011). Shale gas development relies heavily on multistage hydraulic fracturing stimulation to maximize commercial viability. Wells are hydraulically fractured by flushing large quantities of "frac fluid"-a mixture of freshwater, proppants, and small amounts of friction reducers and other chemicals-into them at extremely high pressure levels to create small cracks, or "fractures," in the shale formations. Doing this allows natural gas to flow more freely through the reservoir and, in turn, increases recovery. Frac jobs commonly use 1 to 3 million gallons of water per gas well; in some cases, water use may exceed 5 million gallons per frac (Anderson and Theodori 2009). Numerous concerns have been raised over the amount of freshwater used by gas producers in the hydraulic fracturing process (Capozza 2009; Theodori 2009). Furthermore, fears continue to escalate over the potential contamination of surface waters and freshwater aquifers from the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process (Olmstead et al. 2013; Osborn et al. 2011).

Despite this growing rural sociological literature consisting of contemporary attitudinal studies on shale gas development, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the individual actions that (a) may or may not have been taken and/or (b) may or may not be taken in response to the production of shale gas. The purpose of this research note is to extend the current scientific literature on the social issues associated with unconventional natural gas development (c.f., Theodori 2011). Here, using data gathered in a general population survey from a random sample of individuals living in one county in the Barnett Shale region of Texas, I examine the effects of public perception of the natural gas industry on six behavior-related dependent variables (i. …