Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental and Energy Policy (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Social Sciences


Chelsea Schelly


Emma Norman


Although natural gas has been praised as a clean and abundant energy source, the varying impacts and uncertainties surrounding the process of extracting natural gas from unconventional sources, known as horizontal high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) or “fracking,” have raised important concerns. The practice of HVHF is expanding so quickly that the full impacts are not yet known. This thesis project, using a grounded theory methodological approach, explores the risks and benefits associated with HVHF as recognized by the residents of two Michigan counties, one that currently produces natural gas by HVHF (Crawford County) and one that does not (Barry County). Through an analysis of media content related to HVHF in each case study site and interviews with stakeholders in both counties, this study examines perceptions of risks and benefits by comparing two communities that differ in their level of experience with HVHF operations, contributing to our understanding of how perceptions of risks and benefits are shaped by natural gas development. The comparative analysis of the case study counties revealed similarities and differences between the case study counties. Overall, Barry County residents identified fewer benefits and more risks, and had stronger negative perceptions than Crawford County residents. This study contributes to the social science literature by developing a richer theoretical frame for understanding perceptions of HVHF and also shares recommendations for industry, organizations, regulators, and government leaders interested in effectively communicating with community stakeholders about the benefits and risks of HVHF.