This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Understanding State Regulation of Fracking in Response to Induced Seismic Activity




Mahafza, Zachary

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Political Science

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



While hydraulic fracturing has brought about significant developments in the American energy market, there have been negative environmental impacts that have resulted from the practice. Water and air pollution, zoning of wells, water usage, and public health have all been areas of inquiry from scholars interested in the policy and public opinion implications of use of hydraulic fracturing. One area however, that of induced seismicity, has been severely understudied by policy scholars. Additionally, policy scholars have long known that focusing events play a critical role in starting the policy process, often changing the existing debates or opening opportunities for new policy ideas and entrepreneurs to engage. The importance of focusing events are well known. However, the mechanics of an event becomes a focusing event and what separates ordinary events from focusing events is less understood. This project seeks to address both of these gaps. Using a mixed methods approach, this research expands our understanding of how potential focusing events are transformed into events that lead to policy learning by using the induced seismicity as a lens. This project applies Birkland’s Post Disaster Politics Framework to assess how induced earthquakes lead to policy response and serve as a focusing event. To do this, this research uses a quantitative analysis of administrative actions in 49 states (from 2006-2017) and incorporates variables common to traditional public policy research as well as spatial factors to determine what events prompt policy change. Two case studies are used to further explore the mechanics of focusing events as a mechanism for policy change in Ohio and Oklahoma. Results indicate that the danger and novelty of an event are key towards an event becoming a focusing event. This research offers new insights into focusing event driven policymaking, state oil and gas regulation, and the role of industry and government in making regulatory choices affecting energy development.