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Dueling Polls Cloud Post-Election Analysis of Oil/Gas Issues

A Pew Research Center survey showing waning American citizens' support for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline clouds the outlook coming out of the immediate aftermath of last week's midterm elections.

With the defeat of major ballot measures that were viewed as anti-oil/gas industry, such as Measure 5 in North Dakota that would have carved out 5% of the state's oil extraction tax for land conservation/recreation programs, an American Petroleum Institute (API) Harris Poll of exit interviews showed 86% of American voters supporting oil/gas development for its economic benefits.

"We were very active in North Dakota on Measure 5 and very strongly opposed it," said Jack Gerard, API CEO. "Early polling showed it would likely prevail by 20%, but as you educate the American consumer and public on the importance of this issue, very quickly they sided with our view of the world, and that's the same when you look across the broader country today."

Nevertheless, a Pew Survey released Wednesday showed a different picture of eroding support for such pro-energy litmus tests as fracking and the Keystone pipeline. Pew said 59% of those polled support Keystone XL, a drop from 66% who supported it in March last year (see Daily GPI, April 4, 2013). The drop was all among people who label themselves as Democrats (54% in 2013 vs. 43% now) while Republican voters stayed strongly supportive (83%).

And more Americans now oppose fracking than support it (47% opposed and 41% supportive), the Pew survey showed. "That's a flip in public opinion from March 2013, when more Americans (48%) favored expanded use of fracking, compared to 38% opposed.

Pew said its research center's national survey, conducted Nov. 6-9 among 1,353 adults, found divided opinion over who should take the lead in resolving the nation's problems -- 41% think Republican congressional leaders should; 40% want President Obama to do so. "That represents a shift from four years ago when far more wanted the president to take the lead (49% to 30%)."

On energy, the Pew results see a near dead heat on the question of whether the Republican-dominated Congress or President Obama will have a better approach (30% favored Republicans, 29% Obama, 35% felt there was no difference, and 6% didn't know).

Expected new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated he will pass legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline and also take up legislation to boost liquefied natural gas exports, which is expected to in turn bolster the use of fracking.

Meanwhile, API and the Harris Poll have concluded that political candidates in 2016 are more likely to win if they support pro-energy policies. Harris showed that 82% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats support pro-energy policies.

The poll also found that 72% of survey participants support building the Keystone XL project (58% Democrats and 91% Republicans).

"When people focus on the American energy renaissance and see the real value to them  as Americans, as consumers for job opportunities and energy security -- the list goes on -- you will see that they overwhelmingly support us taking advantage of this unique American opportunity that no one would have predicted just a few years ago," Gerard said.

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