The Role of Stakeholder Engagement in Mediating A Social Licence
: A Case of The UK Shale Gas

  • Pearl Oruamabo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research investigates the operationalisation of stakeholder engagement in the UK shale gas industry. Stakeholder engagement is a central feature of many natural resource development projects globally, especially in controversial projects like shale gas development. Community engagement is not only a desirable business practice, but a mandatory exercise prescribed by operating licences as a prerequisite for development. Resource extraction is usually characterised by complexities due to a multiple stakeholder environment and organisations are increasingly recognising that effective stakeholder engagement is key to gaining a social licence to operate. There is however, limited research on the nature of the linkages between the stakeholder engagement process and the SLO. This thesis investigates the role of stakeholder engagement in gaining a social licence in shale gas development.

A qualitative case study approach was adopted, focusing on the development of shale gas in specific licensed areas. Semi structured interviews and documentary analysis were used to obtain the perspectives of engagement managers, regulators, local communities, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and industry experts. Collectively, all study participants were stakeholders in the shale gas development process. There was consistency in the understanding of who or what constituted as stakeholders; however, stakeholder engagement was often viewed as prescriptive, serving the interest of the shale gas industry. The implication being that engagement approaches did little to ensure that stakeholder involvement influenced planning and decision making. Friedman and Miles’ ladder of engagement was used to examine the extent of stakeholder engagement in the shale gas development process. The findings indicate that for many stakeholders, contributions to decisions seemed to occur at a tokenistic level, resulting in barriers that further prevent the benefits of stakeholder engagement to be achieved. Insights from the interviewees are analysed in relation to the extent stakeholder engagement can be a legitimising tool. Drawing on the legitimacy theory, this study finds that there are elements of legitimisation in the engagement efforts of the shale gas operators; however, it stops short of finding these efforts successful in achieving legitimacy as a prerequisite of the social licence.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorIan Robson (Supervisor) & Xiaoyi Mu (Supervisor)

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