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WIREs Clim Change
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Public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and oil in the United States and Canada

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The United States and Canada have been at the forefront of shale oil and gas development via hydraulic fracturing. Understanding public perceptions is important given the role that they may play in future policy decisions in both North America and other parts of the world where shale development is at a much earlier stage. We review 58 articles pertaining to perceptions, published between 2009 and 2015. Studies report mixed levels of awareness of shale operations, tending toward higher awareness in areas with existing development. While individuals tend to have negative associations with the term ‘fracking,’ views on shale development are mixed as to whether benefits outweigh risks or vice versa: perceived benefits tend to be economic (e.g., job creation and boosts to local economies) and risks more commonly environmental and/or social (e.g., impacts on water and increased traffic). Some papers point to ethical issues (e.g., inequitable risk/benefit distribution and procedural justice) and widespread distrust of responsible parties, stemming from perceived unfairness, heavy‐handed corporate tactics, and lack of transparency. These findings point to the contested, political character of much of the debate about hydraulic fracturing, and raise questions of what constitutes ‘acceptable’ risk in this context. We compare these results with research emerging in the UK over the same period. Future research should focus on nuanced inquiry, a range of methodologies and explore perceptions in varied social and geographical contexts. Both this and future research hold the potential to enhance public debates and decisions about shale gas and oil development. WIREs Clim Change 2017, 8:e450. doi: 10.1002/wcc.450

Reviewed articles: publication frequency from 2009 to July 2015.
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