The number of people opposed to the development of shale gas wells in the UK has continued to rise, according to new government figures.
According to the latest public attitudes survey tracker by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published today, just under a quarter of people - 24 per cent - are now against fracking, up from 22 per cent in March this year and 21 per cent in December last year.
Similarly, the number of people supporting the controversial technology has declined to 24 per cent, down from 29 per cent in March and 28 per cent in December.
However, nearly half of people remain neutral on the technology, with 47 per cent neither supporting nor opposing shale gas development, despite rising levels of awareness - three quarters of the public are now aware of shale gas, up from just over half last year.
In contrast, the latest DECC survey again confirmed high levels of public support for renewables with 79 per cent of adults saying they supported the use of renewable energy.
The figures are in stark contrast to a shale gas industry-backed survey published yesterday and picked up by major news outlets, which claimed that 57 per cent of people are now in favour of fracking.
The survey, carried out by the research group Populus on behalf of the UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), polled over 4,000 people and found that just 16 per cent were opposed to shale gas development in the UK and 27 per cent were undecided.
However, green groups criticised the survey's methodology, arguing the poll used leading questions.
Writing on his blog Noise of the Crowd, Leo Barasi accused Populus and UKOOG of loading the questions in favour of fracking projects.
"A question on fracking that's 146 words long, describes the process with reassuring terms like "tiny fractures" and "approved non-hazardous chemicals", and tells us that it could meet the UK's natural gas demand for 50 years," he wrote in a blog posting. "No challenge to the data, no costs or consequences, no alternative energy sources.
"This isn't an attempt to find out what the public think about fracking. It's message testing."
But Richard Bridger, associate director for Populus, told BusinessGreen that it always tries to ensure that the results it gets from surveys are accurate and reliable.
Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said the DECC figures suggested the industry was using spin to garner support for the controversial technology.
"Less than a quarter of the British public now support fracking generally, and there is even less support when drilling happens locally," he said.
"Shale drilling is far less popular than clean alternatives like solar and wind, yet it enjoys preferential treatment from ministers.
"The government's official numbers contrast sharply with the dubious figures from the industry released yesterday, and cannot disguise how Cameron's ‘all out for shale' push is turned into a politically toxic mix of hype, spin, and secrecy."