Study: Few Americans understand fracking

2013-12-29T13:00:00Z 2014-05-06T13:58:17Z Study: Few Americans understand frackingBy BENJAMIN STORROW Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Fracking is a buzz word, but few Americans know what it actually means. That is the conclusion of a recent survey published by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason and Yale universities.

More than half of the study’s 1,061 respondents reported knowing little or nothing of fracking. And almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they had no opinion on the subject.

Those findings run counter to the often contentious debates seen in Washington and state capitals around the country, where policy makers are weighing the benefits of increased oil and natural gas production against potential environmental damages.

“The fact that half of the people we surveyed know little if anything about fracking suggests that there may be an opportunity to educate the American citizenry in a non-partisan way about this important issue,” said Hilary Boudet, a public policy expert at Oregon State and the study’s lead author. “The question is who will lead that discussion?”

U.S. shale formations containing vast quantities of previously inaccessible oil and gas have been opened in recent years thanks to new production techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, as fracking is officially known. To frack a rock formation is to inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure, causing it to fracture and release the oil and natural gas within.

Fracking is a crucial tool for opening oil and gas reserves in Wyoming. The federal government commonly holds that fracking is used to create 90 percent of oil and gas wells drilled on public lands, which make up nearly half of Wyoming.

About 20 percent of respondents said they were opposed to fracking. Women were more likely to oppose fracking, as were those more familiar with the process. Opponents were apt to associate fracking with environmental degradation, hold egalitarian world views and get their news from newspapers.

Around 22 percent of those surveyed said they supported fracking. They tended to be older, better educated and politically conservative. Their primary news source was television, the survey found.

“In some areas of the country, including New York and Pennsylvania, people are more familiar with the issue but opinions are still divided as they try to balance the economic and energy benefits against environmental and community impacts,” Boudet said.

The study said there is increasing concern among scientists about methane emissions emanating from natural gas production. Such emissions could nullify natural gas’s advantage as a less carbon-intensive source of electricity, the researchers said.

“If the argument is that we need natural gas to mitigate our dependency on other fossil fuels and to lower greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t make much sense to use a technology that could, in fact, increase methane emissions,” Boudet said. “Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

The survey was conducted in September 2012 and has a margin of error of 3 percent.

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-266-0535 or Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. Willy
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    Willy - December 31, 2013 11:11 am
    Cowboy Joe, I think you missed out on the sarcasm. Obviously, just because it's on the internet doesn't make it true. There was a state farm commercial that poked fun at people that believed everything they read on the internet was true.
  2. perfo
    Report Abuse
    perfo - December 30, 2013 12:17 pm
    Another internet scholar, Joe? You are right, though. I do wish I understood fracking better. I've been around a lot of it the last 40 years and supervised more than a few jobs back in the 80's. Back when this "new cutting edge technology" was only 40 years old or so. But starting around 1990 or so I went to the dark side away from well completions and have been a horizontal driller ever since. We don't do much fracking on the drilling rigs so as you pointed out, I don't know as much about the fracking as I should. You? Give us a bit of background on your side.
  3. Cowboy Joe
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    Cowboy Joe - December 30, 2013 8:21 am
    Willy and Pefro might be who the title in the article is referring to.
  4. Willy
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    Willy - December 29, 2013 8:44 pm
    I agree Pops. If the internet says its nasty, it must be true. I saw the fact that everything on the internet must be true on a tv commercial. :)

    Perfo, I agree... and at least you didn't call him a fracking idiot..... :)
  5. Pops
    Report Abuse
    Pops - December 29, 2013 7:29 pm
    Fracking is nasty. Look it up on the net.
  6. perfo
    Report Abuse
    perfo - December 29, 2013 6:41 pm
    I guess the headline really is true. Mouse, you never cease to amaze and entertain. I doubt the oil companies are craving your pity. Have you checked the market lately? It's not just the oil companies that are at new highs.
  7. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - December 29, 2013 4:46 pm
    There are over 100 chemicals in fracking used to obtain oil. The Real Problem lies in 2 areas. One is once the chemicals are used they end up in the water table. there by posioning drinking water. 2nd they do not disapate, there are there for a very long time. The Solution is there are Now ways to extract the oil and take the chemicals back out of the well. Why is this being hidden or not being implimented in wyoming? it may not be cost effect is not reason enough to exclude real progress. And Please do not ask we feel sorry for oil companys with record profits.
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