Research on Local Government Policymaking about High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in New York and California

In 2015, the National Science Foundation's Decision, Risk, and Management Sciences Division awarded my post-doctoral scholar, Dr. Le Anh Nguyen Long, and I a three-year grant to study fracking policymaking by cities, towns, and villages in New York and California. 

Our project investigates how social networks shape policy decision-making about fracking, a technique for hydrocarbon extraction that is transforming the U.S. energy landscape. We are exploring how the structure of local government networks affects the efficacy of policy entrepreneurs (sometimes known as "leaders" or "issue advocates") in convincing local officials to adopt anti- and pro-fracking policies. The project also evaluates how the social networks of policy entrepreneurs affect the innovativeness of these local policies. Finally, it analyzes the social mechanisms driving decision-makers' (non)participation in the diffusion of fracking policies among sub-state jurisdictions.

This project advances scholarship by drawing insights from network science that allow quantitative analysis of how human agents (policy entrepreneurs and local officials) engage with social networks and influence policy diffusion. We hope our work can help local government officials learn how to leverage their networks most effectively when seeking information about fracking or other important local concerns, as well as help citizens and stakeholders better understand and navigate local policy processes. 

One of the innovations of this project is that we (re)construct the networks of participants in local policymaking about fracking by analyzing secondary sources such as local newspaper articles and municipal public meeting minutes. Scholars who attempt to use network analysis to study events that have occurred in the past or over time are often stymied because the conventional approaches to gathering network data, interviews and surveys, rely on people's memories of the past -- and these recollections are often imperfect. By analyzing publicly available documents prepared contemporaneously with policy dynamics we study, we side-step many of these issues and (we hope) estimate local governance networks more accurately and comprehensively. We recently presented some preliminary findings from this portion of the project at the 10th Annual Political Networks Workshops and Conference; you can check out the poster here

To obtain the municipal records that we use to map communication and resource-sharing among people involved in local debates, discussions, and decisions about fracking policy, we rely extensively on requests pursuant to state freedom of information laws. City, town, and village clerks process and respond to these requests, often devoting substantial amounts of time and energy to this task. We are enormously grateful for their help.

If you would like more information about this research or to discuss the project, please contact me at gbarnold@ucdavis.edu.