Public acceptability of shale gas
Shale gas extraction is controversial because its supporters and opponents disagree when it comes to standards and design criteria. More attention should be paid to this in discourse and policy.
In this project, the researchers discovered that supporters and opponents of shale gas extraction do agree on the most important values, and that the shale gas controversy in fact arises from differing interpretations and operational frameworks. The researchers also identified the values that play a role in the shale gas debate, and found a particular lack of attention for procedural values in government policy. Furthermore, they found that it is important that all stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process from an early stage.
The supporters and opponents of shale gas extraction each put forward their respective arguments based on the same values. This means that the controversy that surrounds shale gas is not due to a difference in values between different parties, but due to the different ways of interpreting the values associated with shale gas extraction – such as resource security and environmental friendliness – and of translating them into standards. Subsequently, there are also ways in which these standards can be translated into criteria for the design of technological and institutional arrangements.
To break through this controversy, it is important to ‘explore the value hierarchy’; in other words, to discuss possible future designs with stakeholders at the level of standards and design criteria. Conflicts at this level are, to some extent, related to stakeholders’ expectations regarding acceptable risk.
What then are the important values in the shale gas debate? To establish this, the researchers identified the arguments used by both supporters and opponents. From these arguments, they derived nine underlying ethical and societal values:
- six substantial or outcome-based values:
- international stability
- resource security
- environmental friendliness
- health and safety
- three procedural or process-based values:
- distributive justice
- procedural justice
Substantial and procedural values in the Dutch shale gas debate
It is interesting to note that only the six substantial values play a direct role in current energy policy, which focuses on energy security, affordability and sustainability. The other three values are process-related and, although important in the debate, do not have a specific role in energy policy. It is therefore important to pay more attention to these three values. This could be achieved by involving all stakeholders at an early stage in the decision-making process, as described by the researchers in an article in De Ingenieur (in Dutch).
The researchers identified two other important aspects of the shale gas debate:
- The role of different stakeholders
An argument may be presented by one stakeholder based on value A, and by another based on value B. It is important who presents which argument and when, the interest that the stakeholder concerned has in the argument, and the expectations on which the argument is based or what it is a response to. This information is important to be able to analyse a debate.
- The dynamics of the debate
It is possible that “external” developments will have a significant influence on the debate and the decision-making process. Further research is required to better understand the impact of different types of events and to make constructive use of these insights in such debates.
The interdisciplinary nature of the research involved:
- ethical research, into the role of values in designs;
- institutional theory, for understanding the role of institutions in realising values;
- political science and public administration, for making use of stakeholder processes.
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