Fracking and Parkland: Understanding the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Public Park Usage

University of Florida | North Carolina State University | Florida State University

The study of park users in five Appalachian states found more than a third say they would be unwilling to participate in recreational activities near hydraulic fracturing operations, known more commonly as fracking.

A team of tourism, recreation, and sport management researchers from the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and Florida State University aimed to explore the extent—if any—to which hydraulic fracturing in or around public parks may influence continued visitation and participation. A total of 225 self-identified park users across Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee completed online surveys.

Following the innovation of hydraulic fracturing to effectively collect natural gas, interest has grown in placing exploration and extraction wells in or adjacent to a number of public park and forest systems across North America and Europe. For example, the National Parks Conservation Association outlined a number of parks affected by fracking operations, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) and Glacier National Park (Montana).

In one of the first studies exploring the impact of fracking on park visitation, the researchers found that found that park users are concerned that their ability to access and enjoy their favorite parks systems will be hindered if public lands are leased for the purposes of natural gas exploration and extraction. Specifically, only one-third of participants indicated their willingness to participate in recreational activities near fracking operations (33%, compared to 38% unwilling and 29% neutral). More than half of all respondents expressed:

  • concerns that fracking operations would limit their ability to access their favorite park (52 percent);
  • a willingness to travel further to visit a park unaffected by fracking (52 percent); and
  • their support for legislation prohibiting fracking near their favorite park (58 percent).

Other findings of note include:

  • Most respondents expressed familiarity with the process of hydraulic fracturing.More than 60 percent reported being either somewhat familiar or very familiar with the term “hydraulic fracturing”; on the other hand, 10 percent had never heard of the term before taking the survey. Nearly one-third of the sample lives in a region impacted (either currently or expected) by fracking. Most respondents (40 percent) oppose fracking in any form, while 23 percent are supportive, 25 percent are neither supportive nor unsupportive, and 12 percent are unsure.
  • Park users believe that fracking on public land is unnecessary and bad for the environment.More park users agree fracking on public land is bad for the environment (48 percent) than those who agree fracking has no impact on the environment (16 percent). More park users also support banning fracking on public land (46 percent, as opposed to 20 percent who agree with promoting it). Fifty percent of respondents believe fracking on public land should be subject to greater oversight and regulation, while 13 percent believe it should be subject to less oversight and regulation. When neutral responses are removed from calculation, the contrasts are much starker.
  • While park users generally hold strong opinions that fracking has a negative impact on the natural environment, most park users surveyed for this study are less critical when it comes to its economic benefits.Park users attitudes toward the economic impact of fracking on public land were far more neutral (e.g., regarding its contribution to traffic and gas prices), and in some cases, were positive (such as its impact on the creation of temporary jobs).

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