Perspectives on fracking from the sacrifice zone: young people’s knowledge, beliefs and attitudes
Fracking is a controversial process that requires both chemical and political knowledge in order for young people to make informed decisions and hold industry and government to account. It does not appear in the English chemistry curriculum and little is known about young people’s beliefs about fracking, nor of their attitudes towards it. In this study we focus on young people in schools or colleges within a 20 mile radius of the nearest urban area to a fracking site in England. An in-depth qualitative focus group study was used to investigate the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of 84 young people aged 16-19 in 4 schools and colleges. Young people reported knowledge about the process of fracking and to a lesser extent its social, economic and environmental impacts and associated regulation. Formal education was an important, if limited, source of information that tended to be trusted by young people. Negative and ambivalent attitudes towards fracking dominated, with the use of economic, environmental and social frames used by young people to inform their responses to fracking. Support for fracking hinged mainly upon energy supply and energy sovereignty. Fracking was opposed because of detrimental environmental and economic impacts, the impacts of associated protests and because of the political handling of decisions about fracking. The exclusion of young people, and the population of the area more broadly, from participation in decision-making has led to young people’s disaffection with political processes and cynicism about the relationship between government and industry. The case of fracking demonstrates the importance of creating space for attention to political processes in chemistry education, and for engaging with young people about energy interventions in their community.