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Fracking and environmental justice

Fracking, a method of extracting hydrocarbon fuels from deep rock formations using high-pressure liquid, was an issue of significant contention in the UK until the government issued a moratorium on all fracking activity in 2019.

Despite the UK  government issued moratorium on all fracking activity in 2019. The practice remains in use in other places around the globe.  Scholars at Newcastle had been researching issues around fracking for some time and were able to react rapidly to the UK context, producing research that analysed the highly politicised nature of fracking’s planning and regulatory processes, as well as the patterns of distribution of benefits and fallout from fracking exploration on neighbouring communities.


Environmental justice has historically and globally been a key component of the contestation around fracking. Whilst the moratorium in the UK has now pushed the issue down in researchers’ priorities, the work conducted at Newcastle produced a robust evidence base during the time in which it was being seriously considered as an energy option in the country.

The Legal Angle

Ole Pedersen & Anthony Zito (2018) showed that the legal and planning frameworks in the UK around fracking were set up in such a way that that certain arguments and opposition were largely excluded. Regulatory bodies were adapted from other contexts, rather than being developed specifically for fracking, and the planning system in which decision-making takes place allowed a lot of free rein to authorities in that profession. This is something explicitly explored by Gareth Fearn (2022), who points to the notion of post-politics and shows that UK government and local council approaches to pushing through plans for fracking continued unabated in the face of widespread opposition, principally on environmental grounds. Participatory planning processes were exclusionary of radical or marginalised actors and worked to shift consensus on the issue among local populations by maintaining a pretence of democratic engagement despite a lack of readiness to adapt plans

Who Benefits?

Emily Clough & Derek Bell (2016) looked at the issue through a highly explicit environmental justice framing: they look specifically at distributive justice – that is, where and to whom are the benefits and losses distributed following fracking activity? Looking at Pennsylvania, USA, they observe that the benefits (principally financial value) do not accrue to those living closest to fracking sites, but rather to people geographically removed from these sites.

Research staff

Anthony Zito, Derek Bell, Emily Clough, Gareth Fearn


Research outputs

  • Clough, E., & Bell, D. (2016) Just fracking: a distributive environmental justice analysis of unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania, USA. Environmental Research Letters, 11(2)
  • Fearn, G. (2022) The age of the manager is over? Shale gas fracking and the challenge to the post-political regime for English planning. Political Geography, 93 (2022).
  • Pedersen, O.W., & Zito, A. (2018) Fracking Frames and the Courts. Environmental Law Review, 20(4), 202-212.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences