Poster Paper: Sociopolitical Behavior across the Socioeconomic Spectrum: The Fractured Landscape of Hydraulic Fracturing

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Madeline Gottlieb, University of California, Davis

High volume hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is an oil and gas extraction technique that has revolutionized the energy industry and created significant economic opportunities in marginalized, rural communities. However, potential environmental and human health impacts have caused widespread concern about the process. Recent research has focused on public opinion in communities with fracking, but very few studies have investigated the sociopolitical behavior of those individuals in response to the presence or potential introduction of hydraulic fracturing. In particular, the literature has not addressed how low-socioeconomic communities, who often have less political access and power than their wealthier neighbors, become engaged in the political disputes around hydraulic fracturing. I investigate civic engagement (e.g. letter writing, signature gathering) in response to hydraulic fracturing in California through an institutional lens. That is, I examine how environmental justice advocacy organizations mobilize low-socioeconomic communities, and how the social networks of those advocacy organizations contribute to their efficacy by facilitating and constraining access to resources and power. Though fracking is spatially limited by biophysical conditions, studies show that fracking wells are disproportionately located in low-income, minority communities. Research also shows that socioeconomic status negatively impacts civic engagement. Therefore it is especially important to understand the social drivers behind this phenomenon. In California, 99% of all fracking wells are located in Kern County, a majority Latino county. Of all Californians living within one mile of an oil or gas well, 92% are people of color. Using a census survey of all environmental justice advocacy organizations involved in issues pertaining to hydraulic fracturing in California, I analyze the ways in which institutions work together to effectively leverage their resources to influence decision-making at the grassroots level. With advanced geospatial techniques, I explore the distributional patterns of hydraulically fractured wells in California to determine the extent of the potential environmental injustice in an expanding and important industry.