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April 2012 - Volume 18, Number 2

   

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As Gas Prices Pinch, Support for Oil and Gas Production Grows:
Those Aware of Fracking Favor Its Use

— Report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Overview

 

At a time of rising gas prices, the public’s energy priorities have changed. More Americans continue to view the development of alternative energy sources as a higher priority than the increased production of oil, coal, and natural gas, but the gap has narrowed considerably.

 

Moreover, support for allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters, which plummeted during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has recovered to pre-spill levels. Nearly two-thirds (65%) favor allowing increased
offshore drilling, up from 57 percent a year ago and 44 percent in June 2010, during the Gulf spill.

 

The latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, conducted March 2012 among 1,503 adults, finds that 52 percent say the more important priority for addressing the nation’s energy supply is to develop alternative sources, such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology, while 39 percent see expanding the exploration and production of oil, coal, and natural gas as the greater priority.


A year ago, the public viewed the development of alternative energy sources as the more important priority by a much wider margin (63% to 29%). Since then, support for expanding production of oil and other traditional sources has increased among most demographic and political groups and the shift among Republicans has been
particularly pronounced.

 

 

In March 2011, Republicans were evenly divided over how to address the energy supply: 47 percent said the more important priority was to develop alternative sources, while 44 percent said it was to expand exploration and
production of oil, coal, and natural gas.

 

In the current survey, just a third of Republicans (33%) view development of alternatives as more important, while 59 percent say the more important priority is to expand exploration and production of oil and other traditional energy sources.

 

There continues to be broad public support for an array of policies aimed at addressing the nation’s energy supply: 78 percent favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks, and SUVs; 69 percent favor more federal funding for research on wind, solar, and hydrogen technology; and 65 percent favor spending more on subway, rail, and bus systems.

 

But while support for each of these policies has been steady or down modestly in recent years, support for
allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters has increased. Currently, more than twice as many favor than oppose increased offshore drilling (65% vs. 31%).

 

In June 2010, only 44 percent favored more offshore drilling while 52 percent were opposed. The balance of
opinion today is almost identical to what it was in February 2010, two months before the Gulf oil disaster (63% favor, 31% oppose).

 

 

Nonetheless, Americans are far more divided over whether the government should give tax cuts to energy companies to do more exploration for oil and gas; 46 percent favor this while 50 percent are opposed.
Opinion about tax cuts for energy companies is about where it was in 2008.

 

Support for promoting the increased use of nuclear power, which slipped after last year’s Japan nuclear disaster, has recovered modestly. Currently, 44 percent favor the increased use of nuclear power while 49 percent are opposed. Last March, 39 percent favored greater use of nuclear power and 53 percent were opposed.

 

The survey also finds there is limited awareness of the energy drilling method known as fracking, which is used to extract natural gas from underground rock formations: Just 26 percent say they have heard a lot about fracking, while 37 percent have heard a little and 37 percent have heard nothing.

 

Among those who have heard about fracking, there is more support than opposition. About half (52%) favor fracking, while 35 percent are opposed to the process.

 

As with opinions about many other energy policies there is a wide partisan gap in views of fracking: 73 percent of Republicans who have heard of fracking favor it, compared with 54 percent of independents and just 33 percent of
Democrats.

 

Republicans Back More Drilling; Democrats Favor Alternatives

 

There continue to be large partisan differences in views of various energy policies. Fully 89 percent of Republicans favor allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling while only half of Democrats agree. A majority of independents (64%) support increased drilling.

 

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to favor giving tax cuts to energy companies for oil and gas exploration and promoting the increased use of nuclear power.

 

By contrast, Democrats and independents are far more likely than Republicans to favor increased federal funding for alternative energy research, spending more on mass transit, and better fuel efficiency. About eight-in-ten Democrats (81%) and 70 percent of independents support increased funding for alternative energy, compared with 52 percent of Republicans.

 

The partisan differences in opinions about federal funding for alternative energy research are not new; last November, 83 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents and just 53 percent of
Republicans and GOP leaners favored increased federal funding on research into alternative energy technology.

 

Priorities for U.S. Energy Policy

 

Over the past year, there has been an increase in the percentage of Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, who view the expansion of exploration and production of oil, coal, and natural gas as a more
important priority for addressing the nation’s supply than the development of alternative energy sources.

 

Conservative Republicans now prioritize traditional energy sources over alternative sources by a 65 percent to 26 percent margin; a year ago they were divided (47% oil, coal, natural gas vs. 43% alternative energy).

 

But increasing numbers in other groups – including Westerners and older Americans – also prioritize the development of energy from traditional sources. In the current survey, men 50 and older say it is more important to expand exploration from traditional energy sources, by 51 percent to 37 percent. A year ago, older men prioritized the development of alternative energy sources by a comparable margin (54% to 35%).

 

Awareness and Views about Fracking

 

A majority of the public (63%) has heard a lot (26%) or a little (37%) about fracking, a drilling method used to extract natural gas from underground rock formations. Men, older people, and college graduates are far more likely than their counterparts to have heard at least a little about fracking.

 

Among those who have heard at least a little about fracking, 52 percent favor it while 35 percent are opposed and 13 percent offer no opinion.

 

Although young people are less likely to have heard about fracking, those who have are just as likely as older people to favor it.

 

But there is a wide education difference in views about fracking. College graduates are about evenly split – 45 to 45 percent. A majority of those with some college (56%) or a high school education or less (56%) support fracking.

 

Republicans who have heard at least a little about fracking are far more likely than Democrats to favor the process (73% vs. 33%).

 

Among Democrats who are aware of fracking, there is a wide ideological gap. Conservative and moderate Democrats are split about evenly – 39 percent favor fracking while 43 percent are opposed. By
contrast, liberal Democrats oppose fracking by a 64 percent to 26 percent margin.

 

Released March 19, 2012. Authorization to reprint from Mary Pat Clark, Administration Manager, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on March 22, 2012, <http://www.people-press.org/2012/03/19/as-gas-prices-pinch-support-for-oil-and-gas-production-grows/>.

 

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