After remaining quiet through much of the presidential campaign, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said Thursday that more than 80% of actual voters it polled on Election Day support increased development of the country’s energy infrastructure.

The organization added that it will encourage the incoming Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress to take a holistic approach to reforming the nation’s energy policies. It also said the oil and natural gas sector isn’t afraid of a possible increase in competition from coal, and offered a pragmatic stance on the Paris climate change agreement.

“After one of the most contentious election seasons in recent memory, it may seem like the American people don’t agree on much,” Jack Gerard, the organization’s CEO, said in a conference call. “But there’s one issue that earns high approval from Americans of all political identifications: American energy leadership.”

According to the poll, 81% of respondents said they support increased development of the country’s energy infrastructure, while 75% expressed concern about government mandates to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline. Another 72% said they oppose higher taxes that could decrease investment in energy production and reduce energy development.

The poll also found that 77% of respondents support the role natural gas played in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; 92% said they believe it is important for gasoline and diesel fuels to help reduce air pollution; and 77% oppose legislation that could increase the cost of domestic oil and gas operations, which in turn would drive up costs to consumers.

“Polling confirms that a Trump administration that pursues forward-thinking energy policies will have strong voter support behind it,” Gerard said.

The poll was conducted on Tuesday by Harris Poll on behalf of API. It has a sampling error of plus/minus 3%. Harris surveyed 890 actual voters across the United States by telephone.

Consequence of GOP controlling White House, Congress

Gerard said the American people “spoke loud and clear” when they elected Trump to the White House and kept Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, although at slightly lower margins than before the election.

“Almost everyone was surprised by the reaction of the voters in terms of what they want the nation and the nation’s leaders to focus on,” Gerard said. “With a Republican Senate, House and presidency, there’s opportunity to come together, but it’s also important that they listen closely to what the American voters said. That’s why the polling data we’ve shared today is so significant. It’s overwhelming that they’ve seen the American energy renaissance as a positive, and they want us to continue that trajectory.

“The implications of having a Republican Senate, House and presidency are driven more by the American people’s clear directive that we be focused on job creation, and recognition that some of the unnecessary burdensome regulations of the past are not what we need to be doing. We need to focus on the positive aspects.”

Holistic approach to existing regulation needed

Gerard said the oil and gas industry currently faces 145 regulations or other policies that could discourage production. He said two regulations — specifically, the Interior Department’s proposed Well Control Rule (see Daily GPI, April 13, 2015) and a rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public and tribal lands (see Shale Daily, March 20, 2015) — “are clearly priorities.

“We need to look at the current regulatory approach holistically,” Gerard said. “I would suggest that the whole approach should be a priority. What is being done to impede our ability to really satisfy what the American voter wants should be looked at and reviewed. With the new administration and a new Congress coming to town, we need to see what else we can do to advance and promote the American energy renaissance. Right now regulatory redundancy, overreach and added costs for no benefit, is clearly a top priority and should be.”

Gerard added that reform would be a challenge since regulations covering the oil and gas industry are often intertwined.

“If you look at the different components of the industry, you can have one regulatory activity that might impede at certain segments, which then restricts other activities within energy,” he said. “When you look at it holistically, we can raise which [issues] need to be addressed to allow infrastructure to move forward, and by doing that you’ll be able to prioritize which ones are most important to move most quickly and efficiently.”

Another priority involves three final rules governing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued last May (see Daily GPI, May 12).

“Methane is a top priority, and we’ll be pursuing that aggressively because it adds conflict with states that regulate this activity, adds unnecessary costs and confusion, and seems to demonstrate no benefit for all the associated costs,” Gerard said, reiterating API’s position that while oil and gas production has increased, methane emissions have declined.

“We fundamentally raise the question: Why is the [Obama] administration continuing to pursue an aggressive methane regulatory strategy, when we’re showing that they are already declining in terms of emissions? We’re highly motivated to capture all methane.”

New push to repeal or reform RFS

Gerard said it was a top priority for API to see the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program either repealed or significantly reformed. He said a bill that would do just that — HR 5180, also known as the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016 — currently has more than 100 co-sponsors and enjoys bipartisan support.

“Here’s another energy issue that we can rally around as a nation,” he said. “If you look at the groups that are seeking reform of the RFS, you’ve got a unique coalition that I’ve rarely seen in this town. One thing we all agree on is the RFS is broken. It’s not functioning, it’s not achieving what it was originally intended to do, as well as those intentions might be.”

Momentum was continuing to build to repeal or reform the RFS program, he said. “Folks might have different ideas they want to bring to the table down the road. That’s all great, that’s the legislative process. I think we build on that momentum. I think you see the early stages of strong momentum to fix the RFS.”

Congress enacted the RFS program through two pieces of legislation, both of which preceded the surge in domestic oil production made possible by the shale revolution.

Need to build infrastructure

Gerard lauded oil and gas infrastructure, including the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, as “a great opportunity in this country.” He also said the Trump and Clinton presidential campaigns both identified infrastructure as a top priority.

“This is one of those areas I think we can come together as a nation. We can find common cause. We can bridge the gaps that we’ve had.”

Gerard also referred to a 2014 study conducted by IHS Global Inc. and commissioned by API that found investment in oil and gas midstream and downstream infrastructure could total $1.15 trillion over the next 12 years (see Daily GPI, Jan. 8, 2014).

“That is a huge opportunity [and] doesn’t require taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We need to build this infrastructure to benefit the American consumers.

“I’m hopeful that on a bipartisan basis we can gather around and approach the infrastructure and release those investment dollars that are anxious to be invested, once they’re confident that there won’t be arbitrary decisions made that could restrict our abilities to build the infrastructure.”

No fear of competition from coal

During the campaign, Trump signaled his support for the coal industry and promised to roll back environmental regulation on the sector. Although such moves could lead to increased competition from coal, Gerard indicated that the oil and gas industry is not overly concerned.

“It might surprise some, [but] the oil and natural gas industry believes that the marketplace should decide which form of energy is used,” he said. “We believe some of the regulatory approaches that have been taken in the past put the finger on the scale on behalf of certain energy forms.

“We don’t think government should be in the business of picking winners and losers. We believe all energy forms should compete fairly. We’re hopeful that as some of these unnecessary regulations that were designed to pick their favorite energy forms are looked at again, that we’ll bring them back to a level playing field.”

Forget Paris?

When asked if the Trump administration should pull the United States out of last year’s agreement in Paris to help mitigate climate change (see Daily GPI, Dec. 14, 2015), Gerard pointed out that natural gas led the nation to becoming a world leader in production while also reducing emissions.

“Rather than have this divisive conversation about who’s a climate [change] believer on denier, we believe we need to move beyond that and look for solutions,” he said. “And the first solutions have been demonstrated right here in the U.S., with carbon emissions going down because of affordable, reliable, primarily cleaner burning natural gas that has been brought to the marketplace.

“We believe there is a good practice here that should be looked at, and we would encourage the incoming administration, and frankly our allies around the world, to look at the U.S. success story. Let’s model energy policy around what really works as opposed to theoretical, ideological conversations.”

But when pressed further, Gerard said, “I don’t want to speak for this incoming administration. There is a lot of discretion in the power of the executive as it relates to the Paris agreement. Our thought would be to focus on what’s been demonstrated to work, and right now it shows that if we focus on the American energy renaissance, and continue to build on the great success today, that we’ll have even further environmental improvement. That’s where we have encouraged people to go.”