Nationwide poll shows industry supported by majority of Americans

James Fenton
The Daily Times

The April telephone poll surveyed 1,000 likely voters and a majority favored domestic oil and gas development.

Western Energy Alliance, a trade organization, paid The Tarrance Group, a national survey research firm located in Washington D.C., to conduct the survey.

The majority of those polled were middle-aged white voters in various states who were asked questions designed to gauge perceptions of energy development on public lands, attitudes toward the federal and state governments’ oversight of the industry, increased regulation and whether Congress should reverse the ban on crude oil exports.

Asked whether increased domestic oil and gas development was a good idea, 61 percent of those polled said they favored it strongly. Forty-three percent of people surveyed said hydraulic fracturing and other energy development should be regulated at the state level.

Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance vice president of government and public affairs, said the poll has been done each year for the last four years as part of the organization’s efforts to gauge public perception of the industry.

“(The poll) is to see how we are doing as an industry and test different issues,” Sgamma said in a phone interview. She declined to say how much the survey cost and did not know which states were represented. The survey had an error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, according to The Tarrance Group’s results.

One focus of the this year’s poll was the issue over state versus federal regulation of the industry, Sgamma said.

“We have seen, as a nation, so much over-reach by the federal government,” Sgamma said. “People are starting to understand that regulation is not good for local economies. We’ve seen the states push back — in Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota and Colorado — filing suit over BLM regulations, ozone standards.”

Sgamma said the poll showed that states like New Mexico are better at regulating the industry and sees a new rule on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands by the Bureau of Land Management as government overreach.

“The state of New Mexico has been regulating fracking for quite some time — decades — and this BLM rule really does nothing but duplicate what states are already doing,” Sgamma said. “The state of New Mexico’s safety record for fracking in the Chaco Canyon area and across the state has been exemplary. BLM cannot point to a single incident in New Mexico or elsewhere that requires this new rule. So groups are trying to use the new BLM fracking rule to say we don’t want fracking in Chaco Canyon. The implication that we need federal regulation and that’s better than state regulations doesn’t make sense. The state has been regulating effectively for many years.”

Tim Wigley, president of Western Energy Alliance — which is headquartered in Denver, Colo. — said the results also indicate that those polled favor energy development overseen by state regulators as opposed to the federal government.

“Americans continue to have a favorable impression of how oil and natural gas is produced in the United States. For that reason, they support boosting energy development on public lands by transferring authority to state agencies, which have a better track record of protecting the environment than federal regulators,” Wigley said in a press release. “People trust states to make the right decisions. Voters understand that states across the West continually review and update regulations, and that is why there was such visceral reaction to recent federal fracking rules in places like Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota.”

Victoria Gutierrez, an organizer with Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, said in a phone interview that the poll may have favored people who live in cities as opposed to rural areas where people live close to the industry. She said her four-year-old son has respiratory problems that she attributes to nearby power plants.

“My question is whether they targeted developed cities like Phoenix or rural places (equally),” Gutierrez said. “They didn’t call me, and I am a registered voter and live between the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant, right smack in the middle of them. These are the people they have to target.”

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.