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Resilient but not sustainable? Public perceptions of shale gas development via hydraulic fracturing

Darrick Evensen, School of Psychology, Cardiff University
Richard Stedman, Human Dimensions Research Unit, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University
Benjamin Brown-Steiner, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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Complex energy development, such as associated with extraction and processing of shale gas, may affect the future sustainability and resilience of the small, often rural communities where development occurs. A difficulty for understanding the connection between sustainability, resilience, and shale gas development (hereafter “SGD”) is that definitions of sustainability and resilience are often muddled and unclear. Nevertheless, the ways in which development could affect sustainability and resilience have been discussed and contested in academic literature. Little is known, however, about the general public’s thoughts on how SGD relates to sustainability and resilience. Despite the overlap and conflation of these two concepts, research indicates some differences between characterizations of the two. While acknowledging difficulties in defining the terms, we included questions on a few broad attributes of the two concepts in a survey (n = 1202) of a random sample of residents in the Marcellus Shale region of NY and PA, to explore the relationship between support for / opposition to SGD and perceived importance of community sustainability and resilience. Our survey revealed that beliefs about the importance of sustainability, as measured by three items that clearly pool together as a single factor, are associated with opposition to SGD; beliefs about the importance of resilience, measured by four clearly connected items, are associated with support for SGD. This finding is particularly intriguing and relevant for communication and policy about sustainability and resilience in connection with energy development, because of the common conflation of the two terms.

Key words

hydraulic fracturing; perceptions; resilience; shale gas; sustainability

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087