Deliberating Fracking: Risks, Responsibilities and Energy Futures

Tristan Partridge
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Girvetz 2320
Tristan Partridge

Tristan Partridge is Postdoctoral Scholar in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his Ph.D. in Social Anthropology in 2014 from the University of Edinburgh (U.K.), for work conducted in highland Ecuador on environmental conflict, resource relations and indigenous political action. Before moving to UCSB, he worked as Research Fellow on the ESRC-funded project, "Off The Grid: Relational Infrastructures for Fragile Futures," studying localised renewable energy systems with island communities in Scotland.

Tristan's work examines how natural resources are conceived, defined and produced, and analyses processes of globalisation and participation in shaping energy systems and environmental relations. His current, comparative work with CNS-UCSB on "fracking" explores the various expectations people place on state institutions in relation to natural resources, attitudes toward climate change, and the impact of strategies deployed in extractivist industries to externalise their social and environmental costs. In previous research roles and consultancies, Tristan has contributed to projects on energy localisation, health inequalities, food sovereignty and agrarian activism, with "Beej Bachao Andolan" and UNICEF in India, "Red de Guardianes de Semillas" in Ecuador, and "Heat and The City" and "Camcorder Guerrillas" in Scotland.


In recent years, fossil fuel extraction in the US has rapidly expanded, particularly from deep shale rock using two technologies in combination: high-pressure hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and horizontal drilling. The application of these technologies has created a ‘shale boom’ in the US, generating economic growth and significantly changing the energy landscape through increases in domestic production and gas-fired electricity generation – outcomes the current UK government is seeking to recreate. Fracking is also increasingly contested, encountering opposition from groups concerned about its environmental and social impacts, and prompting public debates about its role in future energy systems. While survey studies have broadly gauged awareness and opinions in both countries, much less work has looked at the underlying dimensions of these perspectives, and at how social contexts influence emergent public views on recently developed extractive technologies. Addressing such gaps, this research is based on a series of structured deliberative workshops that provided a forum for in-depth public discussion of perceived social, environmental and economic issues related to fracking. It develops a comparative case analysis focused on the effects of fracking technologies on social values, relationships, livelihoods and practices in locations where deep shale fracking is in upstream development (California, and the UK). The initial research observations and reflections presented here focus on perceptions of fracking’s risks and benefits, their influence on notions of responsibility, and how they inform attitudes about potential energy futureri