What The Frack? Most Americans Don’t Know What Hydraulic Fracturing Is

Take nothing for granted. That is the most important thing to remember when communicating with the public — or the media or any other group for that matter. Readers of Climate Progress are  immersed in the details of climate science and energy policy, but the vast majority of people aren’t.

For instance, “Natural gas is mostly methane,” but many people don’t know it, which is why I wrote that post last year.

As someone who has been working in the energy arena for over two decades, I myself sometimes forget to lead with the basics. But Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin, has a good post that should serve as a reminder to us all, “Americans Not So Familiar With Hydraulic Fracturing.”

She reports that after polling nearly 2,400 people (“representative of the U.S. based on census data”) on energy issues, she learned that while “everyone seems to be talking about” hydraulic fracturing, “as the poll results demonstrate, media coverage is not synonymous with public energy literacy and awareness”:

Sixty-three percent of respondents reported they had “never heard of” or were “not familiar” with hydraulic fracturing. Just 32 percent called themselves “familiar,” leaving 5 percent who answered more ambiguously, “neither.” In other words, fracking is a case where the public lags behind the science and the technology, so we are left with a highly controversial topic that few Americans understand. But this technology is not only a big deal; it’s already changing the international energy landscape.

This is why we all need to do a better job of basic energy and climate communications — because these issues are way too important to have an uninformed public. Fracking is injecting a fluid mixture into the earth to release natural gas (or oil). It has lots of impacts (see, for instance, Shale Shocked: ‘Remarkable Increase’ In U.S. Earthquakes ‘Almost Certainly Manmade,’ USGS Scientists Report). You can find more at Wikipedia or in this video from ProPublica:

That said, we also need to remember that people don’t need to know every last technical detail to make wise choices. Indeed, poll after poll makes clear the public is way ahead of  supposedly better informed politicians on supporting climate action and clean energy:

8 Responses to What The Frack? Most Americans Don’t Know What Hydraulic Fracturing Is

  1. Ron Kerzner says:

    It’s never about what is right, It’s about what is profitable

  2. Chris says:

    One person I knew thought natural gas was primarily carbon monoxide. That’s why people get carbon monoxide poisoning. Oy vey. I weep for humanity.

  3. John Rutledge says:

    This would have been really useful, and I would share further, if it actually stated at least briefly what fracking is. Again we are presuming knowledge that the article itself shows the majority do not have. We pointed out the lack of education and missed a chance to educate.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    Well, that wasn’t the point of the post, of course (since, as I said, CP readers know what it is). But ask, and ye shall receive.

  5. caerbannog says:

    Apologies for the OT post, but there’s a most excellent article over at Popular Science (!) about attacks on climate-science/scientists. Linky here:

    No “he-said she-said” false balance — just the unvarnished facts. The trolls are out in force in the comments section; sane voices would be most welcome.

  6. M Tucker says:

    So 68% do not have a clue? So, after the controversies about contaminated water wells, explosive tap water, earthquakes and the documentary film, the majority of Americans don’t know what it is all about. But I’m sure plenty of those folks have opinions on domestic crude development. Fracking is not just for natural gas or developing oil from shale like the boom in N Dakota. The new oil boom in Kansas is in the Mississippian Limestone Formation, not shale, and it is all about fracking. What it is really about is horizontal drilling. It improves the recovery rates especially in difficult formations that have had slow or interrupted recovery, like the Mississippian Limestone, and horizontal drilling almost always means injecting chemical laden fluids. It seems to be the preferred method of drilling now for domestic continental oil exploration.

    But I am not surprised that Americans have strong opinions about domestic oil and gas exploration without having a clue of what is really going on. The other day a representative from an exploration company was being interviewed on CNBC and he was proudly proclaiming that all the chemicals used are published on their web site. He did not mention that many of the chemicals were listed as “proprietary.” Secret chemical ingredients kept secret for competitive reasons. Don’t want the competition to know what magic chemical allows better recovery. Or is it a work around to avoid litigation?

  7. Joan Savage says:

    “Lead with the basics” tends to help us all.

    Semi-OT anecdote: Physicist friend was having a hard time describing his research to me and I felt bad since I didn’t understand. A few months later he tried again, and I understood! His comment was that in the interval, he had developed a much better grasp of his topic, himself, so he knew where to start.

  8. K Krieger says:

    Perhaps we should be encouraged that 32% of people do know what fracking is. After all, its not a product advertised by corporations, its not promoted by super pacs, and yet a third of everyone knows about it. How? From activists. We can do better, but our efforts are not in vain.