What the Frack?! Observations on the Rapid Development of, and Growing Resistance to, Hydraulic Fracturing.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Debra DAVIDSON, Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Hydraulic fracturing, a technological process used to extract oil and gas from shale, has been expanding rapidly around the world. Called “fracking” for short, this intensive extractive process consumes a large amount of land and water compared to conventional oil and gas extraction methods, and has been associated with a number of negative impacts regionally, including contamination of groundwater and earthquakes. Fracking, moreover, is associated with higher intensities of greenhouse gas emissions than is conventional production. Considering the geological extent of shale reserves, there is potential for fracking and its effects to become quite widespread.

This rapid development has been met with intense resistance; resistance that is not necessarily being led by the usual green players, but rather local communities themselves. Despite in many cases depressed economic conditions, and a conservative rural culture, local mobilizations against fracking have been widespread, and a large number of these efforts have been successful, resulting in moratoria on fracking activities.

Social reactions to fracking can be seen more broadly as a disruptive response to a complex energy-society system that is increasingly fraught with crises. Shale reserves constitute a low-quality fossil fuel that until recently had not been considered attractive to investors. As energy theorists have projected, however, a decline in conventional supplies has led to exploitation of these lower quality reserves. Through personal conversations with members of communities at the forefront of the fracking enterprise in rural Alberta, I employ a reflexivity lens to explore how residents exposed to fracking conceive of this industry, and how have they responded to their personal conceptions. In other words, what does their reflexive processing look like? Do personal experiences with fracking open up avenues of deeper reflexive processing about energy and climate change? Finally, do these responses suggest the potential for structural transitions in society’s relationship with energy?