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Poll: Support for hydraulic fracturing exceeds opposition

Steve Everley
Energy in Depth

A recent University of Texas poll asked respondents what they thought about a variety of energy issues, not the least of which was hydraulic fracturing. Interestingly, the poll actually shows how anti-energy activists are losing in their misinformation campaign against responsible shale development.

Regarding the issue of hydraulic fracturing in general, the UT poll found that a plurality supports its use — 45% support to 41% oppose. Since September 2012, support has actually increased by four points, while opposition has remained unchanged. In three separate polls over the past year conducted by UT, opposition has never exceeded support. Averaged out among the three polls, support exceeds opposition by six points, 45% to 39%.

In the current poll, those who said they wanted to promote hydraulic fracturing specifically on public lands also outnumbered those who want to ban it, 41% to 36%.

Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT energy poll, observed that the polling shows “steady support for the expansion of domestic natural gas development.” Indeed, an amazing 62% of respondents support more natural gas production in the United States. That matches the findings of a recent Gallup Poll, which showed that 65% of Americans want more emphasis placed on domestic natural gas development – including clear majorities among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

The UT poll also made it clear that anti-energy groups’ attempts to demonize natural gas as some sort of dirty fuel that’s not worth being produced are backfiring – big time. When asked if the benefits of domestic natural gas development outweigh the costs, 41% said “Yes” and only 18% said “No,” an amazing 23 point spread. Asked about specific benefits of natural gas, the results were even more stunning:

  • 75% believe job creation is a benefit of natural gas (only 4% disagree)
  • 70% believe believe natural gas production provides energy security (only 5% disagree)
  • 69% say natural gas boosts US manufacturing (only 5% disagree)
  • By a margin of 53 to 11, Americans say natural gas development is lowering carbon emissions.

The upshot is that Americans overwhelmingly view natural gas development as both an economic and environmental boon to the United States.

Regulation?
Naturally, media reports have either ignored or buried the good news listed above, focusing instead on the poll’s finding that more than 60% of respondents support more regulation for hydraulic fracturing or stronger enforcement of existing laws (the university’s news headline emphasized a “divide on fracking”). The implication is that not enough is being done to protect the public, and that the industry is avoiding proper oversight. The reality, however, is much different – even if it’s not convenient for the media to discuss it.

The industry worked with environmental groups in Colorado and Texas to establish disclosure regulations that have been touted as the gold standard. In California, the industry is supportive of similar disclosure regulations, and it’s actually certain environmental groups – some of whom supported those provisions in Colorado – who are now strangely opposing their implementation.

In Illinois, the industry teamed with labor, business groups, farm organizations, and environmentalists on legislation that would add new regulations for shale development. In Pennsylvania, the industry supported Act 13, which created a new fee that is generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new public revenues.

Notice the trend here? Despite what opponents have claimed for years, and to which too many in the media have provided a forum, the oil and gas industry does not oppose regulation. On the contrary, the industry has actively supported new regulatory measures in the states as a way to provide public assurances that responsible shale development will continue to be protective of the environment.

It is worth noting, however, that many of the same problems we identified with a Bloomberg poll last year (which found a similar percentage of respondents supportive of “more regulation”) also appear in similar form in the UT poll.

For instance, the Bloomberg poll included a question about global warming immediately before the question about “more regulation or less regulation” of hydraulic fracturing. The UT pollsters, however, asked several questions that could have “primed” the respondents to make what they perceived to be the more environmentally conscious option (i.e. more regulation or stricter enforcement). Prior to the questions on hydraulic fracturing, the UT poll asked, among other things:

  • A question about “the impact that US energy production and consumption has on the environment.”
  • A question regarding how public policy “will affect your clean energy choices.”
  • A question on whether climate change is occurring. If respondents answered in the affirmative, they were read a list of possible contributing factors, including specifically oil and natural gas.
  • A question on how they could best be incentivized to reduce water consumption.

To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong in asking these questions. That’s what pollsters do, after all. But preceding a question about regulation of an activity used in oil and gas development with statements that frame the debate in terms of impacts from that development is, at the very least, a caveat worth highlighting as we interpret the meaning of the results.

Of course, that “priming” also raises another important point. Even with respondents geared toward what was clearly an environmental bent, a plurality still said it supports hydraulic fracturing. In that sense, it would be difficult to find a better example of how anti-fracking activists are losing the debate: even their “base” is abandoning them.

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