Department Environmental Social Sciences
Fracking: Political conflicts and decision-making under uncertainty
Unconventional gas is extracted using new and controversial technologies of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking allows extracting sizable resources of natural gas from basins that were considered to be difficult or costly to exploit before. On the one hand, the extraction of unconventional gas can have important implications for the global energy market and geopolitical world map. On the other hand, fracking involves potential environmental risks such as the contamination of surface waters and aquifers, the causation of seismic activity, or the generation of fugitive methane emissions. The uncertainty with respect to the environmental impacts caused by fracking poses considerable challenges to political decision-making processes regulating fracking activities by increasing the difficulties in anticipating the behavior of actors and selecting appropriate policy instruments to tackle the uncertain problem.
This research project examines fracking politics in the UK and Switzerland. We ask which political conflicts and coalitions exist with respect to fracking regulation, what the resources and strategies of the actors and coalitions are, and how scientific and behavioral uncertainties influence political decision-making on this issue.
The analysis of coalition structures helps to understand how different countries and regions deal with the regulation of hydraulic fracturing. For example, high conflict among coalitions leads to bans, both in North America (New York, Québec) and Europe. Characteristics of policy processes and coalition structures seem to be more important than macro-level institutions in order to understand differences between countries in terms of regulation. We have studied the UK and Switzerland more closely. In these cases, scientific and political uncertainties increase the importance of information exchange across coalitions, and former collaboration and institutional venues are important for political actors to identify allies.
Results overview by Paul Cairney: https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/three-lessons-from-a-comparison-of-fracking-policy-in-the-uk-and-switzerland/
Cairney, Paul, Manuel Fischer, and Karin Ingold. 2016. "Hydraulic fracturing policy in the UK: coalition, cooperation and opposition in the face of uncertainty " In Comparing Coalition Politics: Policy Debates on Hydraulic Fracturing in North America and Western Europe, ed. C. Weible, T. Heikkila, K. Ingold and M. Fischer: Palgrave.
Ingold, Karin, and Manuel Fischer. 2016. "Belief conflicts and coalition structures driving sub-national policy responses: the case of Swiss regulation of unconventional gas development." In Comparing Coalition Politics: Policy Debates on Hydraulic Fracturing in North America and Western Europe, ed. C. Weible, T. Heikkila, K. Ingold and M. Fischer: Palgrave.
Weible, Christopher, Tanya Heikkila, Karin Ingold, and Manuel Fischer, eds. 2016. Comparing Coalition Politics: Policy Debates on Hydraulic Fracturing in North America and Western Europe: Palgrave.
Eawag News: www.eawag.ch/fileadmin/Domain1/News/Newsletter/2015/15/15_d.pdf
External team members
P. Cairney, University of Stirling (Blog Entry on the project)
T. Heikkila und C. Weible, University of Colorado