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Free market ideology and deregulation in Colorado’s oil fields: Evidence for triple movement activism?

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Pages 521-545 | Published online: 16 Feb 2017


Unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOGE) has spurred an unprecedented boom in onshore production in the US. Despite a surge in related research, a void exists regarding inquiries into policy outcomes and perceptions. To address this, support for federal regulatory exemptions for UOGE is examined using survey data collected in 2015 from two Northern Colorado communities. Current regulatory exemptions for UOGE can be understood as components of broader societal processes of neoliberalization. Free market ideology increases public support for federal regulatory exemptions for UOGE. Perceived negative impacts do not necessarily drive people to support increased federal regulation. Utilizing neo-Polanyian theory, interaction between free market ideology and perceived negative impacts is explored. Free market ideology appears to moderate people’s views of regulation: increasing the effect of perceived negative impacts while simultaneously increasing support for deregulation. To conclude, the ways in which free market ideology might normalize the impacts of UOGE activity are discussed.


This work was funded by support from the National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) (R21-ES025140-01). Any opinions, findings conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NIEHS or the National Institutes of Health.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. Though this term is the same as Nancy Fraser’s characterization of emancipatory markets, the concepts are quite distinct and were coincidentally created around the same time.

2. There are several reasons why Fort Collins residents were more apt to respond than Greeley residents. For example, the largest employer in Fort Collins is a university and the town has a high number of people with advanced degrees; we speculate that these individuals have a higher propensity to respond.

3. One alternative explanation is that some individuals might prefer that regulatory power concentrate at the local level and hence support federal exemptions. To investigate this possibility, we correlated our DV with two other variables: first, asking if localities should have the right to pass stricter regulation on UOGE activity and, second, asking if localities should be able to relax existing UOGE regulations. Using polychoric correlations, we observed that support for local regulation of UOGE has a positive correlation with support for federal exemptions (rho = .35) while those who support increased local regulation are not supportive of federal exemptions (rho = −.29). Hence, it appears that support for federal exemptions is not likely a function of preference for local regulation.

4. This paper is one of the few to examine a specific UOGE policy. Other research has assessed general support using national samples (Boudet et al. Citation2014, Clarke et al. Citation2015) and surveyed community leaders in areas with little active drilling (Crowe et al. Citation2015).

Additional information


This work was funded by support the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (R21-ES025140-01).

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