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Every society experiences conflict associated with government policy-making, but not all policy conflicts are alike. Some are intense and short-term and others simmer for decades. Unconventional oil and gas development that uses hydraulic fracturing is one example of a contentious issue that is often associated with policy conflict. While conflicts around oil and gas development appear to be intense and growing, we lack evidence of how these conflicts differ in intensity across certain issues and decision contexts. This project will explore 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 extent and characteristics of policy conflicts. In doing so, this project will benefit stakeholders of unconventional oil and gas development, individuals interested in understanding how to diagnose and navigate policy conflicts, and scholars interested in analyzing policy conflicts.
A comparative diagnosis of policy conflicts: Examining unconventional oil and gas development across the United States
Every society experiences conflict associated with government policy-making. Such conflict affects the capacity of governments to address salient societal problems. Yet, as a concept, policy conflict has been in the background of scholars’ theoretical and methodological emphases. Theories of public policy and politics have focused on a range of phenomena from patterns of policy change over time to the structure of advocacy coalitions. Consequently, a theoretical and empirical vacuum exists around the concept of policy conflict as well as its sources, characteristics, and effects. Using a new Policy Conflict Framework (PCF) as an analytical guide, this proposed project brings policy conflict from the research background to its foreground in its study of recent debates over unconventional oil and gas development that uses hydraulic fracturing. Although unconventional oil and gas development seems to be one of the most contentious policy issue in the 21st century, empirical and theoretical knowledge of the underlying sources, characteristics, and effects of policy conflicts surrounding this issue remain under-developed. Variation across the U.S. in policy responses to unconventional oil and gas development complicates any effort to gain insights about the intensities of policy conflicts on this issue as well as their explanations. The goal of this proposed project is to specify the variation and explanations of policy conflicts, to generate knowledge applicable to particular versus general contexts of policy conflicts, and to assess opportunities for mitigating policy conflicts.
This project advances both theoretical and empirical knowledge about policy conflicts in the context of unconventional oil and gas development in four different ways.
It identifies a large number of policy decisions involving unconventional oil and gas development in state-level regulatory agencies and legislatures and offers the first documentation of the variation in policy conflict intensities on this policy issue that spans the U.S. states.
It provides conceptual and theoretical clarification about the factors that explain the variation in policy conflict intensities across policy decisions as well as the expected effects of these policy conflicts and policy decisions on society.
It integrates multiple data sources to analyze conflict and concord over unconventional oil and gas development, including elite interviews, online surveys, and textual analysis from media, legislative, and regulatory sources.
It applies a new theoretical approach (the "Policy Conflict Framework") to generate generalized and localized knowledge about policy conflicts.
The proposed project offers lessons for three populations: 1) stakeholders involved in unconventional oil and gas development; 2) individuals interested in understanding how to diagnose and navigate policy conflicts; and 3) scholars interested in theoretical approaches to policy conflicts and applications to the study of energy policy. To reach these populations, this proposed project will:
Convene a representative advisory committee to (i) assist in designing the research protocols; (ii) help interpret and disseminate findings, and (iii) build and strengthen ties among leaders in oil and gas policy in the U.S.
Offer written and in-person or online presentations of the findings to participants involved in the study and the advisory committee in a summary report.
Disseminate the results to academics and other decision-makers outside of oil and gas community through reports, peer reviewed journal articles, and a co-authored book.
Implement a seminar series and incorporate research findings into course content for environmental and public policy courses at The Ohio State University and the University of Colorado-Denver.