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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”:

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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: