Shale gas policy in the United Kingdom: An argumentative discourse analysis

Shale gas has become an energy policy priority in the United Kingdom in light of profitable extraction activities in the United States. Since 2012 the Coalition Government has created key economic drivers to encourage shale exploration, whilst growing activism in affected site communities has stirred significant media and academic commentary. This study examines the growing national debate as a matter of discourse, adopting an argumentative discourse analytic approach to assess data collected from stakeholder interviews (n=21) and key policy actor statements quoted in broadsheet newspapers. We explore three dominant “storylines” emerging in relation to shale gas policy: (1) “cleanliness and dirt” concerns the relative framing of the environmental benefits and harms of shale gas; (2) “energy transitions – pathways and diversions” concerns geographic metaphors of transitions to carbon intensive and low-carbon energy systems; and (3) “geographies of environmental justice” concerns divisions of economic benefit distribution, environmental impact and procedural fairness. We find that central government policy rhetoric emphasises economic development, regulatory oversight and distribution of benefits to site communities, whilst minimising discussion of the implications of shale gas for anthropogenic climate change. The role of these discourses in influencing shale gas policy is discussed.

Cotton M, Rattle I, Van Alstine J (2014) Energy Policy73, pp.427-438.