A national survey found half of all Americans know little or nothing about “fracking,” the controversial drilling technique for oil and natural gas, and those who do know about it are almost evenly split about whether or not they support it.

The survey results suggest a need to engage Americans in a topic that has far-ranging implications for climate change, energy prices, business competitiveness and pollution.

“There may be an opportunity to educate the American citizenry in a non-partisan way about this important issue,” says Hilary Boudet, a public policy expert at Oregon State University and a lead author of the study. “The question is who will lead that discussion?”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, combines horizontal drilling techniques and injecting massive amounts of chemical-laden water to drill for gas and oil shale deposits previously considered too expensive to mine.

Results of the survey of 1,000 Americans were published in the journal Energy Policy by researchers at Oregon State University, George Mason University and Yale University.

The survey found that opponents of fracking were more likely to be women, hold egalitarian world views, read newspapers more than once a week, and associate fracking with environmental impacts. Supporters tend to be older, politically conservative, watch television news more than once a week, and associate fracking with economic or energy supply benefits,

Natural gas is increasingly seen as a cleaner alternative to coal, with half the carbon emissions. But the release of methane gas during the drilling and transport of gas can counteract its carbon advantage.

The public needs to understand fracking in order to have a full public debate, researchers concluded.

“If the argument is that we need natural gas to mitigate our dependency on other fossil fuels and to lower greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t make much sense to use a technology that could, in fact, increase methane emissions,” says Boudet, an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts. “Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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