One thing is clear from a recent June 2014 public policy survey of local officials by the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP). In northern Michigan, where hydraulic fracturing is actually occurring, residents overwhelmingly support oil and gas development. As the survey notes:
“There are significant regional differences in opinions on fracking. Local leaders’ support is highest in the Upper Peninsula (54% support, 32% oppose) and Northern Lower Peninsula (37% support, 35% oppose), and lowest in SoutheastMichigan (19% support, 51% oppose).”
A story in the Michigan Daily about the survey also observed:
“[T]he data also pointed to some regional disparities on the issue, with greater support for fracking in northern regions of the Lower Peninsula where the practice is more commonly implemented.”
However, as that article points out, public opinion of fracking is still developing in many parts of the state:
“The study also showed public perception of fracking may not be very clearly defined.”
This becomes even more clear when we see that 33 percent of the respondents indicated they “don’t know” whether their constituents would support or oppose hydraulic fracturing. Another 18 percent believe their constituents “neither support nor oppose” fracking. Yet, one of the conclusions is that only 11 percent of respondents said their constituents support fracking.
With this kind of uncertainty, it’s worth a closer look at the survey itself.
According to CLOSUP’s report on the survey, of the 1,856 local government jurisdictions in Michigan, 1,353 actually submitted a response. The survey covered various topics, but questions 16 through 24 specifically addressed hydraulic fracturing. However, of those that responded, eight percent were completely unfamiliar with fracking. Those individuals were then instructed to skip the remaining questions on the subject.
By skipping questions regarding oil and gas development, the respondents’ opinions and those of their constituents were completely excluded from the survey. This fact seems somewhat odd if you are purporting to survey local jurisdictions throughout Michigan. One can assume, however, that those conducting the survey would argue that respondents who are unfamiliar with the process would not yield fruitful data, although that is certainly debatable in terms of understanding public opinion.
What’s more troubling, is in question 19, when respondents who are familiar with the process – but who also indicated that fracking is not an issue – are then instructed to skip the remaining questions regarding their opinions on fracking.
This is especially concerning given that 61 percent of the respondents to that question indicated that fracking is not an issue or a subject of discussion. This comes despite relentless efforts by “ban fracking” activists to claim that shale development is an inherent threat to every Michigander’s way of life, and that it will result in environmental ruin. The fact that so many declared fracking not to be a serious issue suggests that activists, like Ban Michigan Fracking, have failed to convince the state’s local officials that their arguments are credible. Maybe this is also a reason why Ban Michigan Fracking was unable to get enough signatures from voters to support a ban on fracking.
Nonetheless, with so many respondents being excluded, one has to ask: what value do the remaining responses have in determining local officials’ true opinions about oil and gas development? Further, it is no wonder why the survey found only 11 percent of the respondents’ constituents would support fracking.
These findings also run contrary to previous polling that showed strong support for hydraulic fracturing in the state. Specifically, according to the 2013 University of Michigan Public Perception Technical Report, 52 percent of those surveyed in Michigan indicated that “the benefits of hydraulic fracturing outweighed the risks.”
So while only 11 percent of the local officials surveyed may think their constituents are in favor of fracking, in reality, support of oil and gas development is much higher.