by Walter Brasch
For the first time since high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as nonconventional fracking, was developed, more Americans oppose it than support it.
According to a national survey conducted by the independent non-partisan Pew Research Center, 47 percent of Americans oppose fracking, while 41 percent support it. This is a 7 percent decline in support from March 2013, and a 9 percent increase in opposition.
The poll also reveals those who support fracking tend to be conservative men over 50 years old with only a high school education, and living in the South. However, support for fracking has decreased in all categories, while opposition has increased.
Fracking is the controversial method of drilling a bore hole into the earth’s crust as deep as 12,000 feet. The company sends fracking tubing, which has small explosive charges in it, to create a perforated lateral borehole, about 90 degrees from the vertical bore hole, which fractures the shale for up to about 6,000 feet to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. A mixture of proppants, toxic chemical additives, radioactive isotopes, and as much as 10 million gallons of fresh water are put into the tubes at a pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch. About 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011.
Numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown environmental and public health dangers; other research reveals dangers because of the exploration, drilling, storage, wastewater disposal, and transportation parts related to fracking.
According to the Pew survey, about 52 percent of men favor fracking; 40 percent oppose it. However, only 31 percent of women support fracking, while 54 percent oppose it. The remaining percentages are “don’t know” or “no opinion.”
In geographical distribution, those opposed to fracking live in the Northeast (48 percent opposed; 37 percent in favor), Midwest (47–39 percent opposed), and West (54–38 percent opposed.) In the South, 45 percent favor fracking; 42 percent oppose it. The biggest shift from the March 2013 survey is in the Midwest. In that previous survey, 55 percent favored fracking, with a 16 percent drop in support in only 20 months.
Among all Republicans, 62 percent favor fracking, a drop of 4 percent from the earlier survey. However, among Republicans, 68 percent of those who identify themselves as conservatives favor fracking, while only 52 percent of those who identify themselves as moderate or liberal Republicans support fracking.
Among Democrats, 29 percent support fracking; 59 percent oppose it. About 33 percent of conservative and moderate Democrats support fracking; 54 percent oppose it. Among liberal Democrats, 67 percent oppose it, while only 25 percent support it.
Support for fracking in all age groups has also fallen in the past two years; about half of all those under 50 oppose it, while only about 38 percent under age 50 support fracking. Even opposition to fracking among those 50+ has increased. By November of this year, 43 percent of those 50-64 (7 percent more than in 2013) and 40 percent of those 65+ (6 percent more than in 2013) oppose fracking.
The biggest drops in support are among those who attended college. In March 2013, 45 percent of college graduates supported fracking; 20 months later, only 38 percent of college graduates support it. About 52 percent of all those with some college education supported fracking in March 2013; by November 2014, only 40 percent support it.
To understand why there has been a shift in public attitudes about horizontal fracking, it’s important to understand the nature of the mass media.
The mainstream establishment media are not in the forefront of society, but follow it—sometimes years behind emerging issues. In the past decade, the media at first didn’t cover fracking, perhaps because it was too complicated for reporters who weren’t trained in the sciences, perhaps because significant downsizing by publishers left fewer reporters to cover critical issues, perhaps because the media didn’t think fracking affected their own circulation and viewership areas.
The first stories came from the oil and gas industry, and the establishment media accepted what was handed out to them. Thus, public perception was mostly from pro-fracking information.
But, the people knew. They could see their roads being torn up by gas-industry trucks, sometimes more than 200 a day on rural roads. They could see acres of agricultural and forest land leveled for the access roads and well pads. They could hear around-the-clock noise from the trucks, well pads, and compressor stations. They could empathize with neighbors whose land was condemned by eminent domain so that pipes could be laid across and beneath private land.
They learned about politicians who took campaign funds from the oil and gas industry and many front groups, and then crafted industry-friendly regulations to benefit those who fracked the land.
They heard about the economic benefits of fracking, of how fracking would help the local unemployed find work in the deepest recession in decades; but, the high-paying technical jobs went to those from out of state who had experience on the rigs and well pads, did their jobs, and moved onto other out-of-state sites.
They were told about how natural gas was inexpensive, how it was better for the environment, and how renewable energy was unproven and far too expensive for the average homeowner. But, they learned that it was the investors and fossil fuel executives who benefited, and how the process to capture the natural gas, with the flaring of methane, may be more dangerous to global warming than even coal emissions.
At first, the few individuals cried into the winds. But, they came together to form small groups, and then larger groups. They read the environmental and public health studies. They heard from the people about the problems associated with fracking.
They didn’t have the millions of dollars the industry had. They couldn’t afford full-page newspaper ads, radio and TV ad time, or the costs to design and produce 4-color flyers, innumerable mailers, and billboards.
Theirs was a grassroots campaign. They went door-to-door, to their neighbors. They called their friends and strangers who might be affected by fracking.
They attended flea markets, farmers’ markets, and community events. They went to city council meetings.
They became adept at the use of social media. They produced black-and-white flyers and PowerPoint presentations. Some, using inexpensive digital technology, created micro- and mini-documentaries and posted them on YouTube. Others wrote letters to the editor, letters to their legislators, and articles and opinion columns for the alternative media. A few wrote articles for the establishment media; one developed a 107-minute documentary; others produced a feature-length film; several developed shorter films; one wrote a book.
And, when they had to, they blocked and marched, non-violent acts they knew would attract some media attention. And they were willing to be arrested, charged with trespassing, and jailed o protect the people against an invasion of their environment.
A few groups of a few residents became larger, now with memberships of environmentalists, scientists, physicians, social rights activists, landowners, and people whose lives and health were directly affected by fracking.
Those who leased mineral rights to the gas companies, hoping to get some income to help survive the recession, soon realized the royalties were not as much as they were led to believe, and the land was not being restored to its previous condition, as was promised.
Against heavy opposition from politicians and the fossil fuel industry, the people succeeded in getting more than 300 towns to enact moratoriums on fracking until, at least, the health and environmental effects were fully known. They had the passion for truth and not the lust for greed.
Eventually, the establishment mass media caught up, running some syndicated stories about fracking, sometimes a local story, always careful to make sure the industry—with its carefully manicured PR staff and hordes of money—got a chance to respond to the masses of people.
In March 2013, 48 percent of Americans favored fracking, 38 percent opposed it.
In November 2014, only 41 percent favored fracking, and 47 percent opposed it.
A social movement to protect the people’s health and their environment has begun to show the effectiveness of grassroots determination and the dissemination of truth, and not the propaganda of deceit.
[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist more than four decades, is the author of 20 books. His latest book, Fracking Pennsylvania, was the first book to explore fracking and its effects upon public health and the environment, as well as to discuss the truth of the economic impact and connections between politicians and the fossil fuel industry.]