The UK and USA share similar concerns when it comes to horizontal drilling for shale energy, say Cardiff University researchers and colleagues.

Key issues include the risk of water contamination as well as preferences for renewable energy sources over fossil fuels to meet national energy needs.

"This … shows that the public in both countries clearly want a move toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy system in the future," said corresponding author Nick Pidgeon, a professor of environmental psychology at Cardiff University. "The results confirm that shale development is not compatible with that vision."

Researchers held a series of workshops with the public in London, Cardiff, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. "The results showed that shale development was widely seen as a short-term fix leading to an unwanted dependency on finite fossil fuels at the expense of renewables development," said co-author Merryn Thomas, a research associate at Cardiff University.

"Participants in both countries noted that the majority of proposed benefits, such as specialized jobs of limited duration, would be relatively short-term, while the risks, such as environmental degradation, would almost certainly be longer,” Thomas said.

Different concerns in the two countries reflected different models of governance of extractive industries. In the US, some participants wanted more standardized federal guidelines and long-term accountability. In the UK, where regulation is predominantly at the national level, there were calls for more local control.

Drawing on more than a decade of research developed by Cardiff University and University of California Santa Barbara Center for Nanotechnology in Society (UCSB-CNS) in the US, this is the first qualitative, interdisciplinary, cross-national study of UK and US public perceptions of shale extraction. The results appear in the journal Nature Energy.