Policy Sciences

, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 179–193 | Cite as

Unpacking the intensity of policy conflict: a study of Colorado’s oil and gas subsystem

  • Tanya HeikkilaEmail author
  • Christopher M. Weible
Research Note


This article applies the Policy Conflict Framework (PCF) to describe and explain the characteristics of policy conflict within the oil and gas subsystem in Colorado. We use data from a survey of policy actors to assess three cognitive characteristics of policy conflict: divergence in policy positions, perceived threats from opponents’ positions, and an unwillingness to compromise. Aggregating these indicators across policy actors in the subsystem, we find a moderately high level of policy conflict intensity, but we also find substantial variation in the characteristics of policy conflict across policy actors. To help explain this variation, we examine how interpersonal and intrapersonal attributes of policy actors relate to the characteristics of policy conflict. In particular, we find that insular policy actor networks, interest group affiliations, and rigidity of risk and benefit perceptions associate more consistently with conflict characteristics than political views, education, or experience. We conclude with a discussion of the strengths and limitations of this first application of the PCF and reiterate the need for theoretically and empirically rigorous measures of policy conflict.


Policy conflict Oil and gas development Hydraulic fracturing Policy process Policy theory 



This research was supported by the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CBET-1,240,584. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  1. Billig, M. G., & Tajfel, H. (1973). Social categorization and similarity in intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 3(1), 27–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boudet, H., Clarke, C., Bugden, D., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Leiserowitz, A. (2014). “Fracking’ controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy, 65, 57–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cobb, R. W., & Elder, C. D. (1972). Participation in American politics: The dynamics of agenda-building. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cook, J. J. (2014). Who’s regulating who? Analyzing fracking policy in Colorado, Wyoming, and Louisiana. Environmental Practice, 16, 102–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cotton, M., Rattle, I., & Van Alstine, J. (2014). Shale gas policy in the United Kingdom: An argumentative discourse analysis. Energy Policy, 73, 427–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Heikkila, T., Pierce, J. J., Gallaher, S., Kagan, J., Crow, D. A., & Weible, C. M. (2014). Understanding a period of policy change: The case of hydraulic fracturing disclosure policy in Colorado. Review of Policy Research, 31(2), 65–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Heikkila, T., & Weible, C. M. (2016). Contours of coalition politics in the United States. In C. M. Weible, T. Heikkila, K. Ingold, & M. Fischer (Eds.), Debates on hydraulic fracturing: Comparing coalition politics in North America and Europe (pp. 29–52). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hood, G. (2016). Fight over drilling could spill onto November ballots. March 9, 2016. Colorado Public Radio.
  9. Ingold, K., Fischer, M., Heikkila, T., & Weible, C. M. (2016). Assessments and Aspirations. In Christopher M. Weible, Tanya Heikkila, Karin Ingold, & Manuel Fischer (Eds.), Policy debates on hydraulic fracturing: Comparing coalition politics in North America and Europe (pp. 239–264). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Iyengar, S., Sood, G., & Lelkes, Y. (2012). Affect, not ideology a social identity perspective on polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(3), 405–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jaspal, R., & Nerlich, B. (2013). Fracking in the UK press: Threat dynamics in an unfolding debate. Public Understanding of Science, 23, 348–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jenkins-Smith, H., Nohrstedt, D., Weible, C. M., & Sabatier, P. A. (2014). The advocacy coalition framework: Foundations, evolution, and ongoing research. In Paul A. Sabatier & Christopher M. Weible (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (3rd ed., pp. 183–224). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  13. Jenkins-Smith, H., St. Clair, G., & Woods, B. (1991). Explaining change in policy subsystems: Analysis of coalition stability and defection over time. American Journal of Political Science, 35, 851–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (2013). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (Eds.). (1996). Comparative perspectives on social movements. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Rabe, B. G., & Borick, C. (2013). Conventional politics for unconventional drilling? Lessons from Pennsylvania’s early move into fracking policy development. Review of Policy Research, 30, 321–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sabatier, P. A. (1991). Political science and public policy.”. PS. Political Science & Politics, 24(02), 144–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Sabatier, P. A., & Weible, C. M. (2014). Theories of the policy process (3rd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  19. Smith, M. F., & Ferguson, D. P. (2013). ‘Fracking democracy’: Issue management and locus of policy decision-making in the Marcellus Shale gas drilling debate. Public Relations Review, 39, 377–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Susskind, L., McKearnan, S., & Thomas-Larmer, J. (Eds.). (1999). The consensus building handbook: A comprehensive guide to reaching agreement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tilly, C., & Tarrow, S. (2007). Contentious politics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2014a). Colorado state profile and energy analysis. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Washington, DC.
  24. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2014b). Natural gas gross withdrawals and production. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Washington, DC.
  25. Weible, C. M., & Heikkila, T. (2017). Policy Conflict Framework. Policy Sciences. (Early View). doi: 10.1007/s11077-017-9280-6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AffairsUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations