ASSIST Lorraine Whitmarsh

Project: Research council

Project Details


This research project will analyse how public attitudes and community responses to shale gas unfold in space and time. Given that public protests about hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') have taken place in several countries including the UK, understanding public attitudes and community responses to shale gas development is a key social science research area, with relevance for UK policy and for developers' 'social license to operate'.

To date, cross-sectional research on public attitudes to shale gas has predominated, with little detail on how attitudes might vary across geographical areas or evolve over time. Moreover, little in-depth research has charted the lived experience of UK communities in places of shale gas development or the operator engagement that has taken place there.

To address these gaps, this project will implement a mixed-method approach combining spatial, qualitative and quantitative tools. We take a multi-scalar approach with a particular interest in the evolution of public attitudes at the societal level, and the relations between stakeholder and community engagement around particular shale gas development projects at the local level. Informed by frameworks derived from research on other controversial energy technologies, we aim to address the following questions:

RQ1. How do public attitudes to shale gas evolve over space and time in response to unfolding events and changing discourse?
RQ2. What is the lived experience of communities affected by shale gas site preparation, exploration and extraction?
RQ3. What rationales and practices are employed by shale gas stakeholders, including operators, to engage with communities and how is this engagement perceived and responded to?

The proposed research will develop new understandings of public attitudes and community responses to shale gas informed by theory from human geography and social psychology. Drawing on core concepts of geographical differentiation, spatial proximity and place attachment, we will develop and apply a novel methodological basis for analyzing socio-economic aspects of shale gas.

The work programme is divided into four interdependent tasks. WP1 will construct a platform to integrate data at national and local scales, with environmental (both topographical and subsurface), political and socio-economic characteristics overlaid with data on the evolution of public attitudes (WP2) and lived experience and stakeholder engagement (WP3). A final work package will synthesise findings from across these strands (WP4).

The project will have multiple impacts, including:

Capacity building - fostering the development of less experienced investigators and post-doctoral researchers through the targeted co-management of research activities and co-production of written outputs;

Public and stakeholder engagement - with national and local stakeholders in each case study area, from public, private and NGO sectors;

Influence on policy and practice - working with the project's international Advisory Board to widely share findings expected to attract local, national and international interest;

Wider academic impacts - through a series of high profile scientific publications, new datasets, conference and seminar presentations.
Effective start/end date1/07/2031/12/22

Collaborative partners


  • Natural Environment Research Council


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