Duyen Truong | ALES Graduate Seminar

Date(s) - 14/02/2020
9:00 am - 10:00 am
849 General Services Building (GSB), General Services Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB

Event details:  A graduate exam seminar is a presentation of the student’s final research project for their degree.

This is an ALES PhD Final Exam Seminar by Duyen Truong. This seminar is open to the general public to attend.

Thesis Topic:  Residents’ perception of hydraulic fracturing and their engagement in hydraulic fracturing in Lethbridge, Fox Creek, and Rosebud, Alberta, Canada

Seminar Abstract:

Alberta has been dependent upon oil and gas extraction for over a hundred years, resulting in a particular set of political-economic conditions. The economic growth based upon resource dependence depends upon rent, favouring political decisions intended to support the continuation of those rents. Up to date, 93 percent of all the conventional oil in Alberta has been extracted. Therefore, to maintain resource rents, unconventional sources of oil and gas, previously considered too uneconomical to develop, have dominated production. Unconventional gas, including shale and coalbed methane, can only be accessed with a drilling technique involving horizontal, multi-stage, hydraulic fracturing, called fracking for short. In Alberta, over 80 percent of new wells drilled today are fracked, and there has been a growing record of resulting environmental and health problems. In Fox Creek for example, a small town in northern Alberta, the provincial government imposed a temporary stop work order on fracking operations in January 2016, due to the occurrence of high magnitude earthquakes believed to be induced by fracking. And for over a decade, the residents of another small town, Rosebud, sought recourse from the provincial government for the contamination of water wells, also believed to be the result of fracking. The scientific record has corroborated these concerns, with several studies finding significant seismic, water quality, and ecological and human health impacts as a result of fracking. With increasing evidence of negative impacts from fracking, the rights of residents to be informed, and participate in development decision-making, are fundamental. This research aims to support these rights, by exploring the attitudes, knowledge levels, and social engagement experiences of a sample of local residents in Alberta. By using a systematic review and household survey, this study aims to explore perspectives of local residents about fracking in Lethbridge city, Fox Creek town, and Rosebud hamlet, all regions where fracking has been pursued. Using a social capital approach, the author investigates the factors that shape perspectives of local residents about fracking and their level of engagement in fracking opposition activities.

Results from the systematic review of 41 empirical papers about public perspectives of shale development via fracking illustrate the high degree of variation in public attitudes toward fracking. Those who perceive economic benefits outweighed risks associated with fracking operations tend to highly support fracking. Others who directly experience social and environmental costs of fracking express their opposition to this technique. Levels of awareness of fracking tend to be higher in areas where fracking operations have occurred; however, knowledge about fracking is still limited. Some papers highlight the level of disempowerment felt among local residents who feel that their concerns for fracking impacts were ignored. Other studies focus on differences in the publics’ and leaders’ perceptions of fracking and shale development.

These findings point to the complexity of social responses to fracking, as such responses intersect with social, political, and economic characters. Even in the same shale gas play, people from different communities have different points of view about fracking as well as shale development, highlighting the need for research that focuses greater attention on local context.

Results of local residents’ perspectives of fracking and level of engagement in fracking were explored using a household survey of residents in Lethbridge (n=184), Fox Creek (n=29), and Rosebud (n=13), three regions in Alberta where fracking has either been undertaken or proposed. Participants completed a questionnaire regarding trust, networks, self-efficacy, concerns of negative impacts of fracking, factual knowledge of fracking, and socio-demographics. Similar to findings of other emerging technologies, our logistic regression results suggested that males were more likely to support fracking. Trust and knowledge of fracking were also positively associated with fracking support. However, trust was expressed differently toward specific government organizations across the three study sites, signaling the importance of local historical context to fracking attitudes. We found social capital, including trust and self-efficacy, and concerns for the impacts of fracking, all strongly predicted social engagement in fracking in the three study sites. Annual household income, education, and working in the energy sector also shaped residents’ participation in fracking. Furthermore, trust in particular institutions influenced personal and collective engagement differently. These findings reaffirm that residents’ responses to fracking are strongly shaped by local community context. The political-economic context defined by Alberta’s historic role as a petro-state nonetheless shapes the nature of political mobilization and affects the trust and efficacy of residents. Institutional trust had the strongest effect on shaping local residents’ perspectives of fracking, even when controlling for gender, income, knowledge, and sector of employment. However, levels of institutional trust toward a set of specific government entities varied substantially by location, suggesting that historical experiences with those entities with respect to fracking development strongly influenced local residents’ trust, and this in turn affected their attitudes toward fracking.

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