Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Poll: Americans Say Regulate Fracking More, Climate Change is Here

Photo by UPI/Gary C. Caskey /LANDOV

An aging tractor shares land with a oil drilling rig at a farm above the Niobrara oil shale formation in Weld County, Northeastern Colorado on May 30, 2012.

The latest University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll finds that a plurality of Americans oppose exporting natural gas; a majority say climate change is occurring; and in general are more concerned about the prices of gasoline and electricity than they are about carbon emissions.

The semi-annual poll, conducted online, asks a representative group of 2,000 Americans (based on Census data) how they think and feel about the energy issues of our time. This is the fourth wave of the poll, which began in 2011. Sheril Kirshenbaum, the poll’s director, says that political leanings seem to influence how Americans see energy. “There seem to be very strong differences between Democrats and Republicans,” Kirshenbaum says. “It’s coming to the point where if I know what your party affiliation is, I can usually guess where you fall on a lot of these topics.”

Democrats in the poll, for instance, tend to trust the scientific community when it comes to topics like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” while Republicans are less likely to believe the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring.

Among the findings:

  • 73 percent said global climate change is occurring, while only 16 percent said it isn’t. That number has held steady since the last poll, which came as a bit of a surprise to Kirshenbaum. “Normally, after the winter, whenever there’s snow around the country, we expect those numbers to go down a bit.”
  • The number of Americans who say climate change is man made is increasing. “We saw record droughts over the summer, we saw very severe storms,” Kirshenbaum says. “I think there might be a sea change occurring, where more and more people are recognizing that things are different than they were just a few decades ago. And because of that, perhaps more open to changes in policy regarding climate change.”
  • As to what’s causing climate change, those polled listed deforestation, oil and coal as the biggest culprits.
  • In government spending, respondents said that energy and environment were some of the least important areas to use their tax dollars.
  • 40 percent said that U.S. energy production and consumption will have “about the same environmental impact” in the next year as it has in the past, while 42 percent said the impact will be higher.
  • A third of respondents said they’re “likely” to try to learn more about reducing their energy use.
  • Respondents were more concerned about the cost of gasoline and electricity than they were about the environmental impact of fracking and carbon emissions.
  • Respondents oppose and support fracking in roughly equal numbers, but a plurality said fracking needs more regulation. Their chief concern is water contamination. “They were less concerned about carbon emissions, which is a bit surprising,” Kirshenbaum says, “but that might be because it’s more of a complex topic.

Chart by UT Energy Poll

A few of the poll’s questions during this round dealt with water. 52 percent of respondents said the government “should do more” to prepare for future water needs, and 34 percent said a “significant increase” in how much water costs would lead them to reduce their use. (The same was true for reducing energy use.)

The next poll should be out this fall.


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