Friday, 30 November 2012

Shale gas and opinion polls. Pt II: The UK

Having looked at recent USA opinion polls in my last post, now lets look at the most recent UK data. A recent opinion survey of residents of Fylde, Blackpool and Lancashire has been commissioned. Report is here, Cuadrilla's take is here, and a BBC report on the survey is here. The headline figures: 44% favour continued extraction, 23% oppose further extraction, and 35% don't know. Remarkably similar to the US numbers actually.

Now, I have to stop for a minute to take the BBC to task about their reporting of the issue. You'd think the headline for this story would be something like: 'New survey shows majority of residents support fracking' (or something catchy-er than that, I guess I'll never get a job at the Sun). Instead, we get 'Cuadrilla fracking survey is propaganda: Protest group'. Or as it should read: 'Crazy person with clear and obvious bias makes completely unsubstantiated claims'.

It really is laughably sad. The protagonist in this case is Gayzer Tarjanyi, who has changed his name by deed-poll to Mr Frackman to oppose shale gas. Probably not the kind of person to be relied upon to provide impartial analysis. Does anyone really think the Mr Frackman gives 'balanced presentations' as he claims?

The sole piece of evidence advanced to suggest that the survey is 'propaganda' is that 90% of the people who come to his meetings oppose fracking. Well, I'm fairly sure, much like my own experiences of Bristol's anti-fracking groups, is that the reason they are there is not because they want to find out more, but because they already oppose fracking and are looking for more information to support their view. The 45% of people who support fracking are unlikely to come to Mr Frackman's meetings.

Finally, unless there is another petition hidden away somewhere, his latest petition appears to only have about 300 signatures. Bear in mind that the population of the area in question is several hundred thouand. Of course, there doesn't appear to be a geographical limit to the petition, so maybe some of the signatories have been bussed in from elsewhere, much like the protesters who came all the way from Brighton to chain themselves to Cuadrilla's rig last year (and much like how much of the US shale gas opposition is bussed in from New York city).

Much like the US experience, it would appear that in the local areas affected by shale gas extraction, public support is running at 2-to-1 in favour (with a significant proportion of 'don't knows'), while anti-fracking sentiment is stronger in other areas that are more affected by Josh Fox's movie-making than any direct experience of fracking.


  1. Please visit the fracked Barnett shale in the US where I live in a town with more than a hundred wells. You will be singing a different tune, when you have frack sites near your home, and next to your children's school.

    1. Hi anonymous,

      All I'm talking about is what the opinion polls about shale gas appear to be showing (both in the UK and the USA). It's unlikely I'll be able to afford a ticket to Texas anytime soon, but if you'd like to share some more specifics of your experience, I'm sure my readers would be interested.

  2. Dr JV - surely you can see that a survey which show that nearly half of respondents admit to knowing little or nothing about it's subject is next to meaningless. Leaving that aside for a moment why on earth would you expect a survey which shows that less than half of its respondents are in favour of fracking should garner headlines like "New survey shows majority of residents support fracking"?

    Is that how you would present your own research? I do hope not!

    Of course a headline saying "Majority of residents do not support fracking" WOULD be justified by the numbers wouldn't it :-)

    Numbers are troublesome little things aren't they?

    1. Of course, public opinion is clearly meaningless unless they support you viewpoint, I suppose? I'm sure you would have said the exact same thing had the numbers been the other way around, right?

      The numbers must indeed be troublesome from your point of view if leading anti-frackers feel the need to dismiss them as propaganda. Despite the best efforts of Frack-Off et al, only 1 in 5 people oppose fracking. Do you agree with Mr Frackman's assessment that these numbers are propaganda, or do they reflect public sentiment?

  3. I was merely questioning the idiocy of anybody suggesting that 46% is a majority.

    I certainly wouldn't have destroyed my own credibility by saying any such thing had the numbers been reversed. That would have been silly.

    Propaganda is what it is. I do agree that Cuadrilla attempted to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear with these figures and spectacularly failed in the attempt. Public opinion is clearly not meaningless, but Cuadrilla's feeble attempts to draw conclusions from this study are pretty laughable aren't they?

    I think the survey probably does reflect current sentiment (and ignorance) as much as you can expect a survey full of closed questions, commissioned by Cuadrilla, to do. As a scientist you should be only to aware of the obvious limitations that those closed questions place on the results

    Even when given open questions nearly half (49%) of respondents were unable to think of any benefits from fracking, but only 10 % of people thought there might be two benefits - 23% thought that it would result in cheaper energy. 11% thought job creation would be a benefit.

    Given that most credible sources agree that it won't result in cheaper energy and the job creation line is a joke, that's looking pretty desperate for them as far as winning the public opinion battle goes.

    You and I both know that the REAL test of public opinion will come when they have to start building the access roads and pipelines and tankering in and out the fluids on the development pads. I think that when this becomes visible / tangible / smellable to the local population a lot is going to change. Face it - nobody on the Fylde had heard of Fracking before the earth tremors and any serious opposition only started 6 months ago.

    Even the local MP is seriously worried about lack of effective regulation, and it seems the Energy Secretary is very unimpressed by Cuadrilla's management response to the earth tremors when they happened.

    Cuadrilla have had an easy ride so far. It's going to get a lot more bumpy this year for them and they'll have to be a bit more polished with their PR than they have managed so far.

    1. It is a majority of people who have expressed an opinion. Any survey you want on any subject usually has a significant portion of 'don't knows'. What matters is the split between people who express an opinion. That's how things usually get decided. Again, it's certainly worrying enough to Mr Frackman and those at Frack-Off to have gone to significant effort to try to dismiss the figures.

      And are you seriously telling me that if 46% of Fylde residents had opposed fracking (with only 23% in favour), that Frack-Off wouldn't have been all over the media touting the figures?

      I agree that the real test of opinion will be when drilling starts in earnest. That being the case, it is instructive to consider places already affected by shale gas extraction. If you didn't read part 1 of my post, the numbers from Pennsylvania show similar numbers to the Cuadrilla survey: ~45% in favour, ~25% against and 30% don't know (but in affected rural areas, rather than urban centres, support for fracking is actually stronger).

      However, I think we can both agree one thing, and that is that from a PR perspective, Cuadrilla have been pretty useless, and have been completely outmanoeuvred by opposition groups.

  4. "It is a majority of people who have expressed an opinion."

    Oh come on Doctor - surely you can do better than that can't you? :-)

    I have no idea what might have happened with different results, but the one fact which is really relevant and which undermines any realistic attempt to draw conclusions from this survey is the level of ignorance about the subject it displays.

    That will change as fracking changes from being an abstract to a reality in the area.