*UPDATE* Another Poll Shows Public Support for Hydraulic Fracturing
UPDATE (8/1/2013; 4:30pm ET): A poll released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is generating media attention finding that a slim majority of Californians oppose hydraulic fracturing, a technology that could play a key part in helping develop the state’s Monterey Shale. The Monterey Shale is estimated to contain 15.4 billion barrels of oil (more than 60 percent of the nation’s oil reserves) and a USC study estimated that developing this resource could create millions of jobs within the next seven years.
Given the incredible potential economic opportunity that the increased use of hydraulic fracturing represents for our state, why would Californians oppose it? I teach a course in research and analysis to undergraduates, and the pollsters in this case made two survey design errors, within the same question, that my students are trained not to make: giving the respondents false information, and also providing incomplete information (lack of context) so as not to allow for a thoughtful response.
The National Council on Public Polls has the following guidelines for journalists who write about poll results:
“You must find out the exact wording of the poll questions. Why? Because the very wording of questions can make major differences in the results. Perhaps the best test of any poll question is your reaction to it. On the face of it, does the question seem fair and unbiased? Does it present a balanced set of choices?”
The question posed by PPIC was: “Do you favor or oppose increased use of fracking, a drilling method that uses high- pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations?”
Leaving aside that the pollsters used only the loaded term “fracking” to describe hydraulic fracturing, it is simply not true that fracturing is a “drilling technique.” Hydraulic fracturing is in fact a well completion technique that takes place after the drilling rig is removed from the site. Hydraulic fracturing is a one or two day process (in California) that has been routinely used more than 1.2 million times in the United States. The first application as over 60 years ago, and the adverse environmental impacts imagined by anti-industry activists have time and again proven to be overblown or flat out untrue.
This leads us to the problem of context. If the respondents had been made aware that hydraulic fracturing was an extremely common and, until recently, uncontroversial process for developing otherwise unobtainable energy, would this have skewed the result? Would it have further helped to explain to respondents that increasing our use of hydraulic fracturing would make California more energy independent by reducing oil imports from abroad? What if they were told about how it would generate billions of dollars in new state revenues? Or the millions of jobs, particularly in the unemployment-ravaged Central Valley? Undoubtedly.
When context is provided, California voters are clear where they stand on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, as the Los Angeles Times/USC poll below (even with its problems) makes clear.
—Original Post 5/8/2013—
Another Poll Shows Public Support for Hydraulic FracturingYou wouldn’t know it from reading today’s headline in the Los Angeles Times, but yet another poll has confirmed that Californians support the increased use of hydraulic fracturing in California.In its story, the Times published the following graphic, which clearly shows the single biggest finding of the USC Dornsife/LA Times poll:
According to the poll, fully 60 percent of Californians want hydraulic fracturing to continue to be used to develop our homegrown energy.This shouldn’t be a surprise, because another recent poll also demonstrated overwhelming support for the increased use of hydraulic fracturing.
Support was greatest in the Central Valley, where people would be most impacted, both by the economic renaissance increased development could bring and also by any potentially negative environmental impacts. Clearly, those who live closest to our oil and gas industry’s operations understand that the industry operates safely – probably because folks in central California have been living safely near oil and gas development for decades. Amazing how that works.
To be sure, many of those supportive of hydraulic fracturing want the process to be more tightly regulated. Respondents weren’t told this, but there will be more regulation of hydraulic fracturing in California, and that’s something even the industry itself is publicly supporting. In fact, the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is actually in the process right now of writing strict new rules, which will provide additional public assurances about the continued use of proven technologies like hydraulic fracturing.
Clearly, in neglecting to tout the fact that Californians support the increased use of hydraulic fracturing by nearly a two-to-one margin, the Times buried the lede.
This is bad news for the anti-industry activists who insist that public opinion is on their side in the effort to ban hydraulic fracturing. They say it all the time: This is about democracy… The people must be heard…We will not be silenced…
As the above infographic highlights, when “keep legal, but strengthen regulations” is offered as a choice against “ban fracking,” the former wins by a solid 11 points. It’s good that the state is currently in the process of strengthening regulations.
That said, there are some problems with the poll, and how it was presented to the public. Based solely on the information provided, respondents were left with the impression that many of the activist claims of environmental danger from hydraulic fracturing are facts.
Let’s take, for example, the option given to respondents of a moratorium, which the Times pointed out received 58 percent support.. This position (a pause until further research is conducted) sounds reasonable, but the respondents were no doubt left in the dark about what this would mean in practice.
First of all, “more study” is the typical delay tactic among opponents of shale development. How much more study? How many studies will suffice? These questions are never asked, but we know the answer: study it forever, or until a study matches preconceived and ideological opinions.
We know this is true because of yet another inconvenient fact for opponents: hydraulic fracturing has been extensively studied, including in Los Angeles, and has been used safely more than 1.2 million times in the United States. Its first use was way back in the 1940s. State regulators, independent experts, and even federal officials have been analyzing and researching best practices for decades. The conclusion from this ongoing research has been an acknowledgment that hydraulic fracturing is, indeed, a safe technology. Opponents don’t like that result, even though it’s based on extensive study, so they simply deny it and say we need different studies.
Second, the notion of a moratorium was debated robustly in Sacramento among our elected officials, and last week the proposal was soundly rejected by the Democrat-controlled Assembly (getting only 24 votes in the 80-member body). Another Democrat-controlled legislature over in Illinois similarly rejected calls for a moratorium in the past few weeks, focusing instead of strong regulations to leverage the benefits of shale development while also providing critical public protections.
Finally, the purpose of a moratorium is not just a time-out. Those calling for a moratorium realize that it is more palatable to an unsuspecting public than an outright ban (which is what they really want). If they can get a moratorium passed, then the vocal minority has suddenly shifted power onto itself to dictate when that moratorium will be lifted — in other words, never. This is a cold hard fact of which respondents in the poll were not made aware.
Given these facts, it isn’t surprising that more than half of respondents answered that they would support a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing pending further “study.”
The penultimate energy-related question in the survey also contains two outright misstatements that make any responses to questions based on them questionable. The question read:
“As you may know, although there are federal rules on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, there are currently no state-specific regulations in California.”
This is absolutely incorrect. Every single well in California, regardless of what well-completion technique is used on it, is highly regulated and requires a permit from DOGGR. Each permit is granted if and only if an operator submits a comprehensive application, which is itself reviewed by state engineers.
This brings us to the other part of the question, regarding “federal rules” on hydraulic fracturing. Shale development is indeed governed by a host of federal statutes, but hydraulic fracturing is regulated by the states, and has been for decades. State regulators are able to craft and implement rules that can address specific public concerns in their state. What concerns folks in Pennsylvania won’t be the same in North Dakota, and the geological differences provide even greater justification for a state-based system. For that reason, even the U.S. EPA – including officials in the Obama administration – has defended this regulatory setup on numerous occasions.
And again, DOGGR is currently drafting stricter regulations specifically for hydraulic fracturing in California, and there may be additional legislation regarding hydraulic fracturing as well. It is no wonder, then, that respondents would want additional regulations if they believe the process is unregulated and poorly studied!
Anti-industry activists will no doubt cherry pick some of these data in an attempt to stay relevant, but the message is clear: by a 2-1 margin Californians want us to continue developing our energy resources using hydraulic fracturing, and they want to make sure that it is done safely. (Indeed, when respondents were told of the potential economic benefits of more development, their support increased.)
This poll shows that Californians hold a perfectly rational position, one that is shared by Governor Brown, DOGGR, responsible environmentalists, scientists — and the oil and gas industry.