Political/Social Research

Oil and gas development involving hydraulic fracturing has been the most politically contentious environment and energy issue of the start of the 21st Century. The debate involves uncertainty, tradeoffs, and risks involving environmental, social, and economic impacts. Other major issues involve how costs and benefits are distributed differently across short-term and long-term time horizons, and questions of governance as government and nongovernment actors seek to develop legitimate decision making processes that mitigate some of the political conflict and establish effective policies. Our research aims to understand the changing beliefs, preferences, resources and strategies of policy actors involved in hydraulic fracturing issues in Colorado. Additionally, it seeks to advance theories that explain beliefs, preferences, resources and strategies of policy actors involved in high conflict environmental issues.

Above: data from forthcoming research comparing perceptions of different risks around oil and gas development in 2013 and 2015.

This research focuses on “policy actors” – those individuals actively involved in the politics of an issue in a particular locale. Policy actors can include officials from all levels of government, private industry, nonprofit organizations, engaged citizens, scientists, and members of the news media. The research methods involved interviews, an online questionnaire, hyperlink analysis, and news media and online document analysis. Through this research, we identify the perceived risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing, the distribution of political resources, the type of activities and coalitions in which political actors are engaged, and evaluations of recent regulations and preferences for future regulations.

Our data collection focuses on two time periods: 2015 and 2017. We have completed the 2015 data collection including interviews with key stakeholders (n≈9), administration of the online survey (n≈260), automated analysis of hyperlinks between policy actors’ websites, and an analysis of the news media coverage of Colorado. In 2017 we will repeat the data collection. In the interim, we are focused on analyzing results from the data and writing publications. In addition to publications, we have shared our results in public forums, including with the COGCC, with a stakeholder roundtable, and at invited talks.