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date: 21 February 2019

Communicating About Climate Change, Unconventional Energy Development, and “Fracking”

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

The surge in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction by way of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques—and the associated health, environmental, economic, and social impacts that have captured public interest—comes at a time of increased attention to the curtailment of fossil fuel use to address climate change. It is important to study public perception of unconventional energy development, as public support or opposition has important implications for research on climate change perception and communication.

Reviewing relevant research in this area reveals two overarching themes. First, many of the factors that shape public views on unconventional energy development also help influence climate change concern and awareness, including (a) psychological factors like political ideology; (b) characteristics of the information environment, including news media coverage; (c) characteristics of location, including proximity to areas of active development; and (d) moral and ethical considerations, including the geographic and temporal distribution of risks and benefits.

Second, efforts to highlight climate change as an energy development impact have increased in recent years. The extent to which natural gas (in particular) is considered a cleaner “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future or a “dirty” fossil fuel that will hamper a transition to low-carbon energy sources will arguably serve as a valuable strategy for climate change engagement.