The public remains divided on whether the UK should exploit its shale gas resources, new government polling shows.
The statistics come a week after Lancashire council delayed a decision on whether to permit fracking at two sites, due to concerns over noise and traffic.
The shale gas circus has been in town for a couple of years now. In that time, protesters have taken to the streets and gone home again, companies have fired up their drills and shut them down, and Scotland cautiously welcomed and then banned the industry.
It seems such drama has split the public, with similar numbers of people opposing and supporting fracking. The data shows that, of all the UK’s energy options, shale gas remains the most divisive.
The latest round of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (Decc) public attitude tracker survey shows 24 per cent of the public support extracting shale gas, while 23 per cent are opposed.
When Decc conducted the poll last September, 26 per cent supported shale gas extraction, with 27 per cent opposing it.
The results are slightly different to a Sunday Times/YouGov poll conducted a few weeks later, but also released this week. That survey showed 35 per cent of people support fracking, with 41 per cent against it.
The opposition increased when the question focuses on the local impacts. When the Sunday Times poll asked whether people would support fracking within one mile of their home, 58 per cent of respondents said no. Only 20 per cent said they would support fracking that close to home.
Increasing that distance to two miles and offering “a substantial amount” of financial compensation to the local authority didn’t make much difference, with 53 per cent of respondents still opposing such developments.
The public isn’t as split on alternative energy options.
Decc’s poll also asked people if they support the development of a range of energy technologies. In general, people favoured developing renewables, and were broadly supportive of new nuclear and carbon capture and storage. Shale gas was by far the least popular.
Source: Decc public attitudes survey. Graph by Carbon Brief.
That poses some difficult questions for the government. David Cameron recently told a parliamentary committee that people didn’t want any more onshore windfarms. Decc’s polling suggests that’s not the case.
In the same meeting, the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to supporting the UK’s nascent shale gas industry. He has previously said the UK should go “all out” for shale gas. Again, the data suggests that is a far less popular idea.
But Decc’s poll also shows a large number of people are yet to make up their minds about shale gas. Most respondents say they neither support nor oppose shale gas extraction, or don’t have an opinion on it.
That may encourage those wanting to explore shale gas extraction, as it suggests there’s still a large section of the public that could be persuaded to support such developments.
Lancashire council are due to make a decision on whether to give shale gas company Cuadrilla permission to frack at two sites in the county in the next eight weeks. Whatever they decide, some people won’t be happy. But many seem yet to make up their minds.