Public Perception

January 24, 2014 06:46 PM
Public Perception

58% of Americans are ambivalent about fracking

In the past decade, the U.S. has transitioned from being energy deficient to becoming a major energy provider. According to a report published in late 2013 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, the U.S. is projected to  become the global leader in natural gas production.

The EIA says shale gas, which is produced by horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking), accounted for 39% of all natural gas produced in the U.S. in 2012. Within the decade, shale-procured natural gas will make up more than 51% of the U.S. gas supply, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. 

The uptick in fracking has created considerable media coverage in recent years, as well as intense debate where the practice is underway. But despite its rapid growth, fracking is not a well-known or understood process, according to the Climate Change in the American Mind survey, published in the November 2013 issue of the Energy Policy journal.


The national survey, conducted by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason and Yale Universities, respectively, asked 1,061 participants four questions specific to fracking. Of those individuals, 55% said they had heard "little or nothing" about fracking, while only 9% of those surveyed had heard "a lot." In addition, 58% said they were undecided about whether they were for or against fracking. Of the 42% who said they had decided, the results were nearly split down the middle with 20% opposed to the practice while 22% said they supported it.

"Our findings have important implications for energy policy and risk communication," the survey authors wrote in their final report. "Broadly speaking, our results paint a picture of an American populace that is largely unaware of and undecided about this issue."

A Pew Research Center national study reaffirms university researchers’ determination. In the Pew study, published in September 2013, 44% of the 1,506 adults interviewed said they favor fracking while 49% are opposed.

Furthermore, the Pew survey reports "the recent energy boom in the U.S. has not registered widely with the public—only 48% correctly say that U.S. energy production is up in recent years, and just 34% attribute it mainly to greater oil, coal and natural gas, even though oil and gas exploration has been the primary driver of this trend."

Debate continues. Despite the lack of public awareness in some parts of the country, in others, hydraulic fracturing is being hotly contested with staunch supporters on both sides of the issue, including U.S. farmers. Some farmers see an opportunity to profit from oil and gas leases, while others are concerned the practice will pollute ground water and make land unproductive.

Currently, 32 states allow hydraulic fracturing. Among the most recent state decisions, the Illinois state legislature approved the practice this past June with a bill considered to be one of the most stringent in the country.

In New York, a moratorium is in place on hydraulic fracturing. Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked state health and environmental commissioners to evaluate the practice and provide feedback on whether it can be safely implemented. Parts of the state sit on the Marcellus Shale formation, which has an estimated 141 trillion cubic feet of potentially recoverable natural gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a study to understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing. 

You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at

Fracking Defined

There are two types of hydraulic fracturing commonly used today. Vertical hydraulic fracturing is most often used to extend the life of an existing well, once its productivity starts to run out.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing means that wells move laterally instead of going straight down, so a larger area can be reached with fewer holes bored into the ground surface. Horizontal wells can go laterally for up to two miles along a shale deposit. A combination of water, sand and chemicals are injected into these horizontal wells at great pressure to break up the shale deposits and release the natural gas trapped inside that was inaccessible by other drilling practices.

For more information on the issues and faces behind the energy explosion in rural America, visit

fracking boom energy


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