Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Self-Reported Familiarity of Hydraulic Fracturing and Support for Natural Gas Drilling: Substantive and Methodological Considerations *

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Self-Reported Familiarity of Hydraulic Fracturing and Support for Natural Gas Drilling: Substantive and Methodological Considerations *

Article excerpt

Rapid development of the US natural gas industry over the last decade has been fueled primarily by technological advances in horizontal drilling and high-volume, multistage hydraulic fracturing (IEA 2012). Hydraulic fracturing - an industrial process frequently called fracking, fracing, or frac'ing - involves flushing large volumes of frac fluid (i.e., a mixture of water and proppant, along with small volumes of friction reducers, disinfectants, and other chemicals) into wells at extremely high pressure levels to create and/or magnify small fissures, or fractures, in the shale formations (King 2012; Theodori et al. 2014). The fracturing of shale gas formations increases recovery by enabling higher permeability through the reservoirs to the wellbores (King 2012).

Of late, the topic of hydraulic fracturing has increasingly dominated public discourse and popular press writings (Dobb 2103; Marsa 2011; Walsh 2011). Environmental, social, and behavioral scientists have also begun studying various environmental/natural resource, social, and public health issues associated with increased hydraulic fracturing and shale gas and oil development (Colborn et al. 2011; Olmstead et al. 2013; Shonkoff, Hays, and Finkel 2014; Weber, Geigle, and Barkdull 2014). Citing both perceived and objective environmental and health concerns, lawmakers in municipalities across the country - and recently at a state level (New York) - have passed legislation banning the process of high-volume, multistage hydraulic fracturing within their jurisdictions.

The purpose of this paper is to add to the sociological literature on issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. Recent studies have sought information on American's views of hydraulic fracturing from national samples of residents (Boudet et al. 2014; Davis and Fisk 2014) but do not focus on the views of residents living in areas such as Pennsylvania that are most affected by the rapid development of the natural gas industry. Other studies provide information on the views of selected stakeholder groups and community and/or key informants (Brasier et al. 2011; Ceresola and Crowe 2015; Ladd 2013; Schafft et al. 2014) rather than assessing residents' views directly. A 2009 survey of Pennsylvania residents in the Marcellus Region provided early baseline information about residents' perceptions (Alter et al. 2010), and a subsequent study (Willits, Luloff, and Theodori 2013a) documented changes in residents' views in the intervening years. The current analysis drew upon the latter survey data to assess residents' self-reported familiarity with hydraulic fracturing and its association with support or opposition to the development of natural gas. Specifically, the following research questions were addressed:

Research Question 1: To what extent do residents report they are familiar with hydraulic fracturing and how does reported familiarity differ depending upon the individuals' sociodemographic characteristics, primary sources of information, density of well development in their counties, and the mode of data collection?

Research Question 2: How does perceived familiarity with hydraulic fracturing relate to residents' support or opposition to development of the natural gas industry in their area?

DATA

In 2012, random samples of persons living in 21 counties in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania were contacted and asked to participate in a survey concerning their opinions about natural gas development. All counties were located in the central core or tier one areas of the Marcellus region as defined by geologists at the time (Dell et al. 2008), and all had experienced at least some Marcellus Shale drilling activity. However, the well densities of the areas varied widely. Twelve of the counties contained between 1 and 128 wells in 2012, with 12 or fewer wells per 100 square miles of land area. The remaining nine counties each had two hundred to more than one thousand wells, with densities between 20 and 93 wells for every 100 square miles. …

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