This special issue addresses hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction as an interpretive policy problem. Bringing together empirical cases from the U.S.A., the Netherlands, the U.K., Poland, and Germany, we identify three approaches to the interpretation of hydraulic fracturing in the article: understanding its meaning, contextual explanation of the institutionalization of its meaning, and policy design as intervention to alter its meaning. By exploring differences and similarities across these cases, we identified two central tensions in the meaning of shale gas in all cases: (1) economic opportunity or environmental threat and (2) transition toward a more carbon-free energy future or perpetuation of a fossil fuel system. We found that when actors shift the meaning of hydraulic fracturing to consider it predominantly an issue of threat, this explains the dominance of risk governance as an approach to managing the controversy. Alternately, when the meaning of fracking shifts from consideration as an economic opportunity or a bridge fuel to consideration of it as a barrier to an energy transition, this explains the decision to ban fracking. Therefore, a comparative assessment of the papers demonstrates the ways interpretive dimensions of politics can influence the governance of public policy.