Skip to main content Accessibility help

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Risk Perceptions of Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale

  • Kathryn J. Brasier (a1), Diane K. McLaughlin (a2), Danielle Rhubart (a3), Richard C. Stedman (a4), Matthew R. Filteau (a5) and Jeffrey Jacquet (a6)...


Exploration and extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale have created considerable controversy. At the core of these debates are differing perceptions of the level and types of risks involved with the extraction activities, such as hydraulic fracturing, truck traffic, air emissions, and population growth. Risks described include the potential for human and environmental health implications, as well as community change and economic gain. This article explores the nature of perceived risks associated with Marcellus Shale development by using data from a household survey (N = 1,917) conducted in 2009–10 in Pennsylvania and New York counties located in the core areas of the Marcellus Shale region. The article describes a quantitative measure of risk perceptions. Statistical analyses of the data indicate that trust in institutions responsible for managing the risks associated with development and attitudes related to relationships between people and nature are associated strongly with perceptions of risk. Other associated variables include reported knowledge of environmental, social, and economic impacts, mineral rights ownership, demographic characteristics (gender, income), and state of residence. Implications of these findings are discussed, particularly as related to improving local discourse surrounding Marcellus Shale development.

Environmental Practice 15:108–122 (2013)


Corresponding author

Kathryn J. Brasier, Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802; (phone) 814-865-7321; (fax) 814-865-3746; (e-mail)


Hide All
Alario, M.V., and Freudenburg, W.R.. 2010. Environmental Risks and Environmental Justice, or How Titanic Risks Are Not So Titanic After All. Sociological Inquiry 84(4):500512.
Alter, T., Ooms, T., Brasier, K., McLaughlin, D., Willits, F., and Tracewski, S.. 2010, August 31. Baseline Socioeconomic Analysis for the Marcellus Shale Development in Pennsylvania. Final report to the Appalachian Regional Commission. Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 70 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2012).
Anderson, B.J., and Theodori, G.L.. 2009. Local Leaders' Perceptions of Energy Development in the Barnett Shale. Southern Rural Sociology 24(1):113129.
Brasier, K., Filteau, M., McLaughlin, D., Stedman, R., Jacquet, J., Kelsey, T., and Goetz, S.. 2011. Residents' Perceptions of Community and Environmental Impacts from Development of Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale: A Comparison of Pennsylvania and New York Case Studies. Journal of Rural Social Sciences 26(1):3261.
Brown, T.C., Bankston, W.B., Forsyth, C.J., and Berthelot, E.R.. 2011. Qualifying the Boom-Bust Paradigm: An Examination of the Off-shore Oil and Gas Industry. Sociology Mind 1(3):96104.
Carolan, M.S. 2006. Risk, Trust and ‘the Beyond’ of the Environment: A Brief Look at the Recent Case of Mad Cow Disease in the United States. Environmental Values 15(2):233252.
Considine, T., Watson, R., Entler, R., and Sparks, J.. 2009, August 5. An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play. Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 33 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2012).
Dake, K. 1991. Orienting Dispositions in the Perception of Risk: An Analysis of Contemporary Worldviews and Cultural Biases. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 22(1):6182
Davidson, D.J., and Freudenburg, W.R.. 1996. Gender and Environmental Risk Concerns: A Review and Analysis of Available Research. Environment and Behavior 28(3):302339.
Douglas, M., and Wildavsky, A.B.. 1982. Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers. University of California Press, Berkeley, 221 pp.
Dunlap, R.E., and Van Liere, K.D.. 1978. The “New Environmental Paradigm”: A Proposed Measuring Instrument and Preliminary Results. Journal of Environmental Education 9(4):1019.
Erikson, K.T. 1994. A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community. Norton, New York, 264 pp.
Finucane, M.L., Slovic, P., Mertz, C.K., Flynn, J., and Satterfield, T.A.. 2000. Gender, Race, and Perceived Risk: The ‘White Male’ Effect. Health, Risk & Society 2(2):159172.
Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., Read, S., and Combs, B.. 1978. How Safe Is Safe Enough? A Psychometric Study of Attitudes towards Technological Risks and Benefits. Policy Sciences 9(2):127152.
Flynn, J., Slovic, P., and Mertz, C.K.. 1994. Gender, Race, and Perception of Environmental Health Risks. Risk Analysis 14(6):11011108.
Freudenburg, W.R. 1988. Perceived Risk, Real Risk: Social Science and the Art of Probabilistic Risk Assessment. Science 242(7):4449.
Freudenburg, W.R. 1993. Risk and Recreancy: Weber, the Division of Labor, and the Rationality of Risk Perception. Social Forces 71(4):909932.
Freudenburg, W.R. 2000. The ‘Risk Society’ Reconsidered: Recreancy, the Division of Labor, and Risks to the Social Fabric. In Risk in the Modern Age: Social Theory, Science, and Environmental Decision-Making, Cohen, M.J., ed. St. Martin's Press, New York, 107120.
Freudenburg, W.R. 2006. Environmental Degradation, Disproportionality, and the Double Diversion: Reaching Out, Reaching Ahead, and Reaching Beyond. Rural Sociology 72(1):332.
Freudenburg, W.R., and Davidson, D.J.. 2007. Nuclear Families, Nuclear Risks: The Effects of Gender, Geography, and Progeny on Attitudes toward a Nuclear Waste Facility. Rural Sociology 72(2):215243
Freudenburg, W.R., and Gramling, R.. 1993. Socioenvironmental Factors and Development Policy: Understanding Opposition and Support for Offshore Oil. Sociological Forum 8(3):341364.
Freudenburg, W.R., and Pastor, S.K.. 1992. Public Responses to Technological Risks: Toward a Sociological Perspective. Sociological Quarterly 33(3):389412.
Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting. 2009, April. Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer. US Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory, Pittsburgh, PA, 101 pp. Available at (accessed June 7, 2012).
Kasperson, R. 2012. The Social Amplification of Risk and Low-Level Radiation. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68(3):5966.
Kasperson, R.E., Golding, D., and Tuler, S.. 1992. Social Distrust as a Factor in Siting Hazardous Facilities and Communicating Risks. Journal of Social Issues 48(4):161187.
Kasperson, R.E., Renn, O., Slovic, P., Brown, H., Emel, J., Goble, R., Kasperson, J., and Ratick, S.. 1988. The Social Amplification of Risk: A Conceptual Framework. Risk Analysis 8(2):177187.
Kelsey, T.W., Shields, M., Ladlee, J.R., and Ward, M.. 2011, August. Economic Impacts of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania: Employment and Income in 2009. Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center, Williamsport, PA, 62 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2012).
Krimsky, S., and Golding, D.. 1992. Social Theories of Risk. Praeger, Westport, CT, 424 pp.
Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. N.d. How Much Natural Gas Can The Marcellus Shale Produce? Penn State University Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, University Park, 3 pp. Available at (accessed December 14, 2012).
Norgaard, K.M. 2007. The Politics of Invasive Weed Management: Gender, Race, and Risk Perception in Rural California. Rural Sociology 72(3):450477.
Pellow, D.N., and Brulle, R.. 2005. Power, Justice, and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 339 pp.
Pennsylvania General Assembly. 2012, February 14. Oil and Gas (58 Pa.C.S.)—Omnibus Amendments. 58 Pa. Stat. §§ 2301–3504. P.L. 87, No. 13. Pennsylvania General Assembly, Harrisburg. Available at (accessed February 11, 2013).
Renn, O., Burns, W.J., Kasperson, J.X., Kasperson, R.E., and Slovic, P.. 1992. The Social Amplification of Risk: Theoretical Foundations and Empirical Applications. Journal of Social Issues 48(4):137160.
Sapp, S.G., Arnot, C., Fallon, J., Fleck, T., Soorholtz, D., Sutton-Vermeulen, M., and Wilson, J.H.. 2009. Consumer Trust in the U.S. Food System: An Examination of the Recreancy Theorem. Rural Sociology 74(4):525545.
Slovic, P. 1987. Perception of Risk. Science 236(4799):280285.
Slovic, P. 1993. Perceived Risk, Trust, and Democracy. Risk Analysis 13(6):675682.
Slovic, P. 1999. Trust, Emotion, Sex, Politics, and Science: Surveying the Risk-Assessment Battlefield. Risk Analysis 19(4):689701.
Slovic, P. 2000. The Perception of Risk. Routledge, London, 518 pp.
Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., and Lichtenstein, S.. 1980. Facts and Fears: Understanding Perceived Risk. In Societal Risk Assessment: How Safe Is Safe Enough? Schwing, R. and Albers, W.A. Jr., eds. Plenum Press, New York, 181214.
Starr, C. 1969. Social Benefit versus Technological Risk: What Is Your Society Willing to Pay for? Science 165(3899):12321238.
Stedman, R.C., Jacquet, J.B., Filteaua, M.R., Willits, F.K., Brasier, K.J., and McLaughlin, D.K.. 2012. Marcellus Shale Gas Development and New Boomtown Research: Views of New York and Pennsylvania Residents. Environmental Practice 14(4):287298.
Stedman, R., Willits, F.K., Brasier, K.J., Filteau, M., McLaughlin, D.K., and Jacquet, J.. 2011, January. Natural Gas Development: View of New York and Pennsylvania Residents in the Marcellus Shale Region. Cornell University Community and Regional Development Institute Research & Policy Brief Series, no. 39. Community and Regional Development Institute, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 2 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2012).
Stern, P., Dietz, T., and Kalof, L.. 1993. Value Orientations, Gender, and Environmental Concern. Environment and Behavior 25(5):322348.
Theodori, G.L. 2009. Paradoxical Perceptions of Problems Associated with Unconventional Natural Gas Development. Southern Rural Sociology 24(5):97117.
US Census Bureau. 2000. Decennial Census Summary File 2 (SF2). US Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Available at (accessed August 31, 2010).
US Census Bureau. 2008. American Community Survey: Selected Population Profile (Pennsylvania and New York): 2006/08 3 Year Estimates. US Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Available at (accessed August 31, 2010).
US Energy Information Agency (EIA). 2012, June. Annual Energy Outlook 2012, with Projections to 2035. DOE/EIA-0383(2012). Office of Integrated and International Energy Analysis, US Department of Energy (DOE), Washington, DC, 239 pp. Available at (accessed December 14, 2012).
Williamson, J., and Kolb, B.. 2011, October 31. Marcellus Natural Gas Development's Effect on Housing in Pennsylvania. Center for the Study of Community and the Economy, Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA, 64 pp. Available at (accessed June 8, 2012).
Wynne, B. 1992. Misunderstood Misunderstanding: Social Identities and Public Uptake of Science. Public Understanding of Science 1(3):281304.
Wynne, B. 1996. May the Sheep Safely Graze? A Reflexive View of the Expert–Law Knowledge Divide. In Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology, Lash, S., Szerszynski, B. and Wynne, B., eds. Sage, London, 4483.

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Risk Perceptions of Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale

  • Kathryn J. Brasier (a1), Diane K. McLaughlin (a2), Danielle Rhubart (a3), Richard C. Stedman (a4), Matthew R. Filteau (a5) and Jeffrey Jacquet (a6)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed