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Fracking Support Outweighs Opposition, Says Survey

Even with the intense media coverage of of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), most people haven't heard about it or are unfamiliar with the practice, according to a nationwide poll conducted in March by the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Of the one-third familiar with fracking "support outweighed opposition, 48% to 36%."

UT's poll, the second since September, surveyed 2,371 Americans from March 5-16 about several national energy issues, including how energy may affect the upcoming presidential race, how costs are affecting consumers, as well as views on fracking. All of the data were weighted using U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure that the sample's composition reflects the actual U.S. population.

When asked specifically to describe how they felt about regulating fracking:

In general, UT's poll found that economics have overtaken environmental concerns. U.S. consumers today strongly support increased energy production from domestic sources, particularly natural gas.

"We see a significant trend of increased pricing concerns and more support for domestic energy production across the board in this survey," said Wayne Hoyer, who co-directed the survey. Hoyer, who is the marketing department chair of UT's McCombs School of Business, spoke with reporters last week about the survey results.

More than two-thirds (65%) said energy was important, and most favor presidential and Congressional candidates whose policies would increase domestic energy production.

"While most respondents expect prices to continue rising, they're also more optimistic about our energy future, perhaps because of the abundance of natural gas and other domestic energy resources. These trends will be interesting to watch as we head into this fall's elections," Hoyer said.

In a striking reversal from the poll conducted in September, support for environmental issues declined "on virtually every measure," Hoyer noted (see NGI, Oct. 24, 2011). At that time those surveyed ranked economic growth (37%) only slightly more important than preventing harm to the environment (33%), which suggested support for a balanced approach to energy policy.

In the March poll, when asked to choose between economic growth or environmental protection, more consumers preferred growth. Significantly, fewer consumers said they were willing to pay much higher prices to protect the environment, at 30% versus with 38% last fall. About half said they were not environmentalists, while 37% described themselves as "passive" and 8% said they were "active" environmentalists.

"Expanding natural gas development had the most support among consumers, with 61% saying they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who backs this issue," the survey revealed. "Consumers also support an increase in renewable forms of energy, with 59% saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports additional financial incentives for companies engaged in renewable technologies, as well as a candidate who would require utilities to obtain a designated percentage of their electricity from renewable sources."

About half of the consumers questioned were in favor of candidates who approved the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, while almost half (46% said they likely would vote for a candidate who supported expanding offshore development in the Gulf of Mexico. Support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge edged out the opposition 38-32%.

In addition, consumers remain "very concerned" about the high cost of gasoline, with almost 90% expecting prices at the pump to climb through the summer, a view particularly strong among Republicans surveyed. More than four out of five consumers also expect total household energy expenditures to increase.

Other findings in the UT survey included that more than two-thirds (65%) say global climate change is occurring, while 22% said it is not. Participants cited deforestation (70%) and fossil fuels (65%) as the "most significant" contributing factors to global climate change. On the jobs front, those surveyed said oil resources provided the most jobs (34%), followed by renewable energy (13%); coal (12%); natural gas (11%); and nuclear (3%).

In addition, the survey found that the number of consumers likely to seek more information about global energy issues in the next six months has declined from last September to 37% from 60%.

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