What the frack? Apathy about Fracking

Most Americans have not heard a lot about hydraulic fracturing, a process of oil and gas production, according to OSU researcher and sociology professor Hilary Boudet.

For many years, the oil industry has been using a combination of liquid and chemicals and injecting it into an already existing oil well in order to enhance oil and gas recovery. The term fracturing, or “fracking,” is derived from this process, which fractures the rock.

Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing technology are chiefly responsible for the current natural gas and oil-drilling boom seen in the United States.

Natural gas is seen to serve as the bridge fuel to get us away from more traditional fossil fuels, particularly coal, to more renewable energy sources. At the same time, it may be less impactful in terms of carbon emissions.

According to Boudet, one of the main highlights from the survey is how few people are actually aware of what fracking is or have formed any opinion for or against it.

“There’s a lot of back and forth right now even among scientists to try to understand whether potential methane leaks and water pollutants might actually outweigh the overall benefits in terms of carbon-emissions from this transition to natural gas,” Boudet said.

Among those who have formed some sort of opinion about the issue of fracking, it’s evenly divided, the survey concludes, allowing for no clear consensus to be determined on which way to move forward on the issue.

“When we tried to figure out the socio-demographic factors that drive the options on fracking, it follows a lot of similar patterns that characterize other debates about emerging or new technologies,” Boudet said.

Even among those who are aware of the issue and have formed an opinion on it, they’re using much of their preexisting beliefs to form their opinions on fracking.

What is different about the process of fracking today from years past — and what’s currently fueling attention in the media — is the combination of fracking with horizontal directional drilling. This means that the drill actually goes down into to well and spans outward horizontally into multiple directions from a single well.

Fundamentally, the combination of horizontal drilling with the hydraulic drilling fracturing fluid causes concerns about the possible underlying pollution factors.

The results from the survey point to the need for the establishment of some sort of public education or dialogue in order to get people up to speed on what the process of fracking is, what it looks like and what the potential impacts and benefits might be so that policy and decision makers can make a decision that is truly informed by the public stance.

Boudet is now taking the results of the survey one step further by mapping out the specific geographies of the respondents’ in relation to their awareness of fracking.

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