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|Protests against fracking in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.|
|(cc) Parker Waichman Alonso|
Natural gas is often touted as being, if not a renewable energy source, at least a clean one. But do most Americans agree? A recent survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute suggests not. The problem stems not from the fuel itself, but from the methods used to extract it from the ground, hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking.’
According to a the Infogroup/Opinion Research Corporation (Infogroup/ORC) survey conducted for the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI), nearly half of Americans (45 percent) are already very or somewhat aware of the controversy about fracking used to tap cheap natural gas supplies in the U.S. Among that group, more than two out of three (69 percent) are concerned about the drilling technique’s possible threat to clean drinking water.
The U.S. fracking survey conducted by CSI – the first national poll to gauge the attitudes of Americans on the subject – was released today along with two separate survey reports for more than 800 New York State/New York City residents and over 400 Pennsylvanians.
Key findings of the national survey include the following findings:
* More than three out of four Americans (78 percent) would “strongly” (49 percent) or “somewhat” (29 percent) support “tighter public disclosure requirements as well as studies of the health and environmental consequences of the chemicals used in natural gas drilling.” Fewer than one in five (16 percent) would oppose requiring such additional disclosure. More disclosure is supported across party lines by Republicans (74 percent), Independents (72 percent), and Democrats (85 percent).
* Over half of Americans (56 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking think state and federal officials are either “not doing as much as they should” (42 percent) or “not doing anything at all” (14 percent) to “require proper disclosure of the chemicals used in natural gas drilling.”
* Nearly three out of five (72 percent) Americans say that they would tell their Member of Congress, governor, or state lawmaker the following: “When it comes to energy production that requires large amounts of water or where water quality is in jeopardy as a result of the energy production, my vote would be for coming down on the side of the public’s health and the environment. We should favor cleaner energy sources that use the least water and involve the lowest possible risk to the public and environment.” Only about one in five (21 percent) would say the following: “When it comes to energy production that requires large amounts of water or where water quality is in jeopardy as a result of the energy production, my view is that energy production priorities have to come first. There is always going to be some risk involved when it comes to energy production. We have to accept that there are going to be tradeoffs when it comes to the public’s health and the environment.” Clean water is favored over
energy production by Republicans (62 percent), Independents (80 percent), and Democrats (82 percent).
Pam Solo, founder and president, Civil Society Institute, said: “Clean energy production is strongly favored by Americans over energy sources that create a danger to human health and safe drinking water in particular. Fracking is a perfect illustration of the fact that Americans don’t think of an energy source as ‘cheap’ or ‘clean’ if there is a hidden price in terms of safe drinking water and human health. The message from our new survey is clear: Americans of all political persuasions prefer to see clean energy development that protects water supplies over traditional fossil fuel production that endangers safe drinking water and human health.”
Commenting on the survey, Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, P.E., Dwight C. Baum professor of engineering, Cornell University, said: “The results of this survey indicates that the public has been educated and sensitized to the issues arising from tradeoffs among energy production, the environment, and health. Americans now understand that, especially with the allure of gas production from unconventional gas plays, even ‘getting it right’ from a technical and regulatory point of view might still be wrong in terms of clean drinking water. The public is increasingly ready to commit to change in its energy use patterns, invest in its children’s energy futures, and is no longer willing to accept the notion that a corporate business plan is the same as a national strategic energy plan.”
Fracking, a technique used to extract natural gas from deep deposits, involves blasting vast amounts of water combined with chemicals and sand into the ground to release the gas from deposits. While industry experts claim that this is a relatively low-risk extraction method, there are growing concerns about the threat of contamination of drinking water supplies.
The nonprofit Civil Society Institute has carried out more than 25 major national- and state-level opinion polls on energy issues since 2003. The 100-percent independent CSI think tank receives no direct or indirect support of any kind from any natural gas industry interest, or any other energy-related company, trade group, or related individual.
In addition to the national survey, the state-specific polls for Pennsylvania and New York State/City were conducted since: (1) Pennsylvania is a major site today for fracking-based efforts to access the enormous Marcellus Shale deposit stretching along the Appalachians from West Virginia up to the western half of the state of New York; and (2) concerns are rising that the use of hydraulic fracturing could lead to water contamination of the Catskill/Delaware River watershed that is a main source of drinking water for New York City and millions of other regional residents.
* Nearly three out of five Americans (57 percent) had at least some awareness of fracking as an issue, including “very aware” (19 percent), “somewhat aware” (25 percent), and “not very aware” (13 percent). (Of this larger group, a subset of 45 percent of Americans is very/somewhat aware.) A minority of Americans (43 percent) say they are “not aware at all” about fracking concerns. Interestingly, when compared to the 43 percent of Americans who are very/somewhat aware of fracking, Republicans (49 percent) and Independents (47 percent) are more likely than Democrats (39 percent) to know about the issue.
* Among Americans who are very or somewhat aware of fracking, more than two out of three (69 percent) are “very” (40 percent) or “somewhat” (29 percent) concerned about water quality issues. Less than a third said they were “not very concerned” (15 percent) or “not concerned at all” (16 percent). Concern about fracking and water quality is a bipartisan worry, including 57 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, and 86 percent of Democrats.
* Nearly three out of four Americans (73 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking would be “very concerned: (58 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (15 percent) to “have such an energy project close enough to your home that there was even a small chance that it could have an impact on your drinking water.” A majority of Republicans (56 percent), Independents (86 percent) and Democrats (91 percent) would be concerned to have such a project near their home.
* More than two out of three Americans (69 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking would be “very likely” (42 percent) or “somewhat likely” (27 percent) to “get involved at the community level to raise concerns about … a ‘fracking’ project” if one was “proposed close enough to your home that there might be an impact on the quality of your drinking water.”
* Where should America focus its energy production in the future? More than four out of five Americans (81 percent) agree that: “Water shortages and clean drinking water are real concerns. America should put the emphasis on first developing new energy sources that require the least water and have minimal water pollution.” Only about one in 10 agree that: “Energy supply needs should override concerns about water shortages and water pollution. America should proceed first with developing energy sources even if they may pollute water or create water shortages.” Water was favored over energy production here by Republicans (71 percent), Independents (88 percent), and Democrats (89 percent).
* Three out of four Americans agree with the following statement: “Smarter energy choices are the key to creating new jobs and a future that is healthy and safe because fossil fuels create toxic wastes that are a threat to our health and safety.” Only about one in five Americans (22 percent) disagrees with that statement.
* About two out of three Americans (65 percent) would pay up to 10 percent or more extra for “the development of renewable energy sources that protect the air and water better than other alternatives.” That includes: up to 10 percent more (29 percent); 10-25 percent more (25 percent); and 25-50 percent more (11 percent). Under one third of Americans (32 percent) would pay no additional amount for cleaner energy. Those who would pay more include Republicans (55 percent), Independents (59 percent), and Democrats (78 percent).
* While the number of Americans who think that it is more urgent to protect “our drinking water from chemicals used in drilling for natural gas and from the wastes generated from burning coal” (18 percent) is about three times that who say the No. 1 concern is “addressing climate change and its impacts” (6 percent), a total of 66 percent say that “these are both major concerns of roughly equal concern” (66 percent). Interestingly, protecting drinking water from natural gas drilling chemicals and coal waste was the No. 1 concern of 26 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of Independents, and only 11 percent of Democrats.
The full national, New York State, and Pennsylvania survey results are available online at http://www.CivilSocietyInstitute.org.
The Civil Society Institute survey of American attitudes about “fracking” was conducted by Infogroup/Opinion Research Corporation between November 26 and 28, 2010 among a sample of 1,012 adults comprising 501 men and 511 women 18 years of age and older living in the Continental United States. Completed interviews are weighted by four variables: age, gender, region, and race to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population, 18 years of age and older. The margin of error for results based on the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Based in Newton, Massachusetts, the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute is a think tank that serves as a catalyst for change by creating problem-solving interactions among people, and between communities, government and business that can help to improve society. Since 2003, CSI has conducted more than 25 major national and state-level surveys on a range of issues including climate change, coal, nuclear, global warming, wind, and other renewable energy, vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, consumer demand for hybrids/other highly-fuel efficient vehicles, and gas prices. In addition to being a co-convener of CLEAN (www.TheClean.org), CSI also is the parent organization of 40MPG.org (http://www.40MPG.org) and the Hybrid Owners of America (http://www.HybridOwnersofAmerica.org).
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