A Comparative Diagnosis of Policy Conflicts: Examining Unconventional Oil and Gas Development across the US

Date: 9/1/17 - 8/31/20
A fracking operation with wind turbines in the background.
Principal Researchers: Professors Tanya Heikkila and Christopher Weible, University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs Others Involved: Hongtao Yi, Associate Professor, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University, and Ramiro Berardo, Associate Professor, School of Environmental and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University Student Researchers: Jennifer Kagan and Jill Yordy Funding: $319,476 - National Science Foundation

Every society experiences conflict associated with government policy-making. Such conflict affects the capacity of governments to address societal problems. Unconventional oil and gas development that uses hydraulic fracturing is one example of a contentious policy issue that is often associated with policy conflict.

However, knowledge of the sources, characteristics, and effects of policy conflict around these contentious issues remains underdeveloped. Additionally, while conflicts around oil and gas development appear to be intense and growing, not all oil and gas policy issues are conflictual and not all conflicts are intense or intractable.

Therefore, this project will explore differences across state-level policy decisions related to oil and gas development over the past decade, to provide an understanding of how different policy contexts influence the intensity of conflicts and their outcomes. Through this research, the proposed project will advance scientific knowledge about policy conflicts and benefit stakeholders of unconventional oil and gas development, individuals interested in understanding how to diagnose and navigate policy conflicts, and scholars interested in theoretical approaches to policy conflicts.

Using a new Policy Conflict Framework (PCF) as an analytical guide, the goal of the project will be to provide conceptual and theoretical clarification about the factors that explain the variation in policy conflict intensity across policy decisions, along with the expected effects of policy conflicts and policy decisions related to the governance of oil and gas development.

In doing so, the study will test newly developed hypotheses related to: 1) how the policy conflict setting affects the intensity of conflicts; 2) how the design of proposed policies affects the intensity of policy conflict; and 3) how the intensity of conflict affects the degree of changes found in proposed policies. The research will also examine the distribution of the intensity of policy conflicts, and evaluate processes and outputs of policy decisions related to policy conflicts.

The research methods involve identifying the population of all policy decisions around unconventional oil and gas development in state-level regulatory agencies and legislatures, and coding news media related to these policy decisions. Second, the research will take a sample from this population and use interviews, surveys, and institutional analyses of policy decisions to collect key indicators of the sources, characteristics, and effects of conflicts.

In applying the Policy Conflict Framework, this proposed project builds generalized and localized knowledge about policy conflicts.