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Pew survey finds a 10 percentage point shift over past year in public opinion toward expanded production of fossil fuels; 78% favor fuel efficiency standards

The Pew survey found a 10 percentage point shift in favor of expanded fossil fuel production from March 2011 to March 2012. Data: Pew Research Center. Click to enlarge.

As fuel prices rise, a new Pew Research Center survey has found that 52% of Americans now say the more important priority for addressing the nation’s energy supply is to develop alternative sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology, while 39% see expanding the exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas as the greater priority.

However, one year ago the public viewed the development of alternative energy sources as the more important priority by a much wider margin (63% to 29%). Since then, support for expanding production of oil and other traditional sources has increased among most demographic and political groups; the shift among Republicans has been particularly pronounced.

Furthermore, this latest national survey, conducted March 7-11, 2012 among 1,503 adults, finds that support for allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in US waters, which plummeted during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has recovered to pre-spill levels. Nearly two-thirds (65%) favor allowing increased offshore drilling, up from 57% a year ago and 44% in June 2010, during the Gulf spill.

As in past Pew Research Center surveys, there continues to be broad public support for an array of policies aimed at addressing the nation’s energy supply: 78% favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVs; 69% favor more federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology; and 65% favor spending more on subway, rail and bus systems.

But while support for each of these policies has been steady or down modestly in recent years, support for allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in US waters has increased. Currently, more than twice as many favor than oppose increased offshore drilling (65% vs. 31%). In June 2010, only 44% favored more offshore drilling while 52% were opposed. The balance of opinion today is almost identical to what it was in February 2010, two months before the Gulf oil disaster (63% favor, 31% oppose).

Nonetheless, Americans are far more divided over whether the government should give tax cuts to energy companies to do more exploration for oil and gas; 46% favor this while 50% are opposed. Opinion about tax cuts for energy companies is about where it was in 2008.

Nuclear. Support for promoting the increased use of nuclear power, which slipped after last year’s Japan nuclear disaster, has recovered modestly. Currently, 44% favor the increased use of nuclear power while 49% are opposed. Last March, 39% favored greater use of nuclear power and 53% were opposed.

Fracking. A majority of the public (63%) has heard a lot (26%) or a little (37%) about fracking, a drilling method used to extract natural gas from underground rock formations. Men, older people and college graduates are far more likely than their counterparts to have heard at least a little about fracking.

Among those who have heard at least a little about fracking, 52% favor it while 35% are opposed and 13% offer no opinion.

Men who have heard about fracking favor the practice by about two-to-one (61% vs. 29%). Women are evenly split (40% favor; 41% are opposed). Although young people are less likely to have heard about fracking, those who have are just as likely as older people to favor it.

There is a wide education difference in views about fracking. College graduates are about evenly split—45% favor fracking while 43% are opposed. A majority of those with some college (56%) or a high school education or less (56%) support fracking.

There is little regional variation in the shares who have heard about fracking, although those in the Northeast are more likely to have heard a lot (36% have heard a lot, compared with 23% in the rest of the country). Among those who have heard at least a little, there is virtually no regional difference in opinion about fracking; about half favor this across all regions.

Republicans who have heard at least a little about fracking are far more likely than Democrats to favor the process (73% vs. 33%), and there is little difference in opinion among Republicans. But among Democrats who are aware of fracking, there is a wide ideological gap. Conservative and moderate Democrats are split about evenly—39% favor fracking while 43% are opposed. By contrast, liberal Democrats oppose fracking by a 64% to 26% margin.

Partisan differences. The survey shows that there continue to be large partisan differences in views of various energy policies. Fully 89% of Republicans favor allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling while only half of Democrats agree. A majority of independents (64%) support increased drilling off the US coast.

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to favor giving tax cuts to energy companies for oil and gas exploration and promoting the increased use of nuclear power.

By contrast, Democrats and independents are far more likely than Republicans to favor increased federal funding for alternative energy research, spending more on mass transit and requiring better fuel efficiency for vehicles. About eight-in-ten Democrats (81%) and 70% of independents support increased funding for alternative energy, compared with 52% of Republicans.

The partisan differences in opinions about federal funding for alternative energy research and other policies are not new; last November, 83% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and just 53% of Republicans and GOP leaners favored increased federal funding on research into alternative energy technology. But as recently as April 2009, there were virtually no partisan differences in views of federal funding for research into alternative energy.

Priorities for US Energy Policy. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the percentage of Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, who view the expansion of exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas as a more important priority for addressing the nation’s energy supply than the development of alternative energy sources.

In March 2011, Republicans were evenly divided over how to address the energy supply: 47% said the more important priority was to develop alternative sources, while 44% said it was to expand exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas. In the current survey, just a third of Republicans (33%) view development of alternatives as more important, while 59% say the more important priority is to expand exploration and production of oil and other traditional energy sources.

Conservative Republicans now prioritize traditional energy sources over alternative sources by a 65% to 26% margin; a year ago they were divided (47% oil, coal, natural gas vs. 43% alternative energy).

But increasing numbers in other groups—including Westerners and older Americans—also prioritize the development of energy from traditional sources. Among those living in the West, 53% say it is more important to develop alternative energy while 39% prioritize traditional sources. Last year, the margin was 73% to 19%.

In the current survey, men 50 and older say it is more important to expand exploration from traditional energy sources, by 51% to 37%. A year ago, older men prioritized the development of alternative energy sources by a comparable margin (54% to 35%).




Common sense seems to be slowly drifting in. Will will prevail?

Who could be in favor of 20% efficient ICEVs vs 80% electrified vehicles?

The same goes for 32% efficient dirty coal fired power plants versus more efficient and cleaner NG, Wind and Solar power sources. The majority will soon swing over there too.

Sometime between 2020 and 2030 we will all go through major energy and transportation changes. Growing-farming liquid fuel for gas guzzlers will like rather odd and unlikely by 2030.


Those 32% efficient power plants are charging those 80% (optimistic) electric cars, which leaves you with about 24% efficiency.

On fracking, the whole story is not completely known by all the people. You can watch the movie Gasland and get upset, but that does not say how wide spread it is.


Common sense seems to be losing ground.

Dave R

@SJC: I do believe the point is to ditch the old, dirty, inefficient 32% coal plants in favor of 60% efficient, significantly cleaner, natural gas plants.

We need to ditch those old dirty inefficient coal plants regardless - but once that's done we can't immediately switch to efficient EVs, so work on both must be done at the same time over decades.


People are starting to come to the realization that while, yes, alternative energy technologies are the future, the future isn't here yet. We still need oil, gas, and coal until such time as they can be replaced in a COST EFFECTIVE manner by cleaner and more efficient technologies.


Start hydrogen commercialisation now... Is it clear ?

Cars, trucks, tractor-trailer trucks, ships and airplanes will be more powerful, less costly, less maintenance, cheaper to fuel and non-polluting. Even watchs and portable computers and phones can be powered by hydrogen for non-polluting electronics.

I know that it's the coffee lobby that is behind battery car pusching because someone that is waiting 4 hours or more for a recharge is drinking lot of coffee while waiting doing nothing while the bev( battery electric vehicle) is waiting on precious time. They concluded that someone having an hydrogen car is never stopping while on the road so is not drinking coffee. Big oil to favor his business has associated and corrupted many socio-economic groups and false pr is their jobs.


Increases in efficiency and conservation are always the best short term options for improve energy market cost control. However, these are not natural to the "following people" who have been trained to be good little consumers. Friviolity is akin to freedom and fun, and is proof of an individuals success. Only dry crusty old grouches conserve and think about efficiency (we are taught).

Alternatives suffer from lack of storage, nevertheless, they will continue to increase in influence. That is because newer methods of oil and gas production, although highly touted, are more expensive methods of production, and are only now being used because there is some anticipation in the fossil industry that commodity prices will remain high enough to make these newer techniques profitable. So, make up what ever story you want about oil and gas prices, but they will go up in the long term. At a certain point numerous alternatives become competitive. Not just solar and wind, but biofuels and other carbon to fuel conversions.


Seimens just got ONE design up to 60%, so when you average the whole electricity production efficiency across the U.S. it might be 40%.

Now you have transmission losses, charger losses, battery losses, inverter losses, motor losses for maybe 65% x 40% = 26% versus 24% for a PHEV.

Picking peak efficiency instead of average when talking about a nation as large as the U.S. is misleading at best.

We SHOULD do lots of things, but how soon is the WHOLE electricity production efficiency in the U.S. going to be 60%? Come on Harvey, you are always putting dates on issues with question marks...2020?, 2030?


According to Harvey, we will stop using liquid fuels for vehicles by 2030. Does anyone really believe that liquid fuels for cars will be quaint in 2030? OMG, that takes the cake.

Sean Prophet

SJC, you are constantly trash-talking the energy transition. But you provide no alternative path forward. What you are really doing is cheerleading continued use of liquid fossil fuels. Which is suicidal. Yes in fact I do think traditional liquid fuels for cars will be quaint in 2030. If advanced batteries haven't completely cornered the market by that time, then cars will at least be using carbon-neutral engineered biofuels. Nobody talks about the impact of megawatt-hour-class batteries, which would even enable electrification of long-haul trucking. As for power plant efficiency, the well-to-wheels studies have all shown electric cars to be far better than the ICE. I'm just not sure what gives you such a woody for combustion. It's 19th century technology we should be done with. All that's left to discuss is how and how soon? And wait until the political winds shift against carbon. It will fall of its own filthy weight.

Dave R

@SJC - GE has CCGT turbines that are 60% efficient, too.

Either way - looking only at total efficiency isn't the point here.

Short term - oil supplies are very, very tight. KSA is the only country with any spare production - and that spare production is heavy, sour crude. Not many refineries can use that stuff. Probably why KSA is sending extra tankers full of the stuff to the USA over the next couple months - we do have the ability to refine it.

Anyway - short term - we have to reduce our dependence on oil - all the easy oil is gone, remaining supplies are harder to extract and demand is at all time highs which is why oil prices are at record highs.

The problem is - there is no good short term strategy short of killing demand with a global recession.

So that leaves us with medium/long term strategies.

Electrification is great because it eliminates our dependence on any single fuel source. Electrification won't work for all applications. For those applications biofuels and natural gas have high energy density.

Anthony F

Is it me, or does the first question not even make any sense? They're conflating two separate issues. Putting up more solar panels wont make gas cheaper -- they're both sources of energy but you cant put solar power in your car (well, not yet at least, one day we'll get there). Putting up wind power wont help either. Better batteries are whats needed to bring down the price of oil, to end oil's monopoly on transportation.


Phase in mandatory installation of (U.S.-made) PV arrays on the roofs of all new construction. Manufacturing capacity will balloon, price will drop, efficiency will increase. Lots of other people will voluntarily retrofit. Of course, this is politically a non-starter (like increasing the tax on gas). Sigh.


Well said Sean. Combustion engine cars (ICEVs) are on the way out like horses and buggies went between 1908 and 1928. It is just a matter of the transition period lenth. Will it be 15, 20 or 25 years?

A.F. I would not give up so easily on Wind and Solar. Wind is making its way for base load in many places. Solar is also picking up speed. A Japanese group has developed a new 'tube like' enhanced PV @ 32% efficiency. A few of those on south walls or roof of your house could produce produce enough e-energy for the house and one or two electrified vehicles.

The current price is still much too high but it didn't stop us from buying $5K HDTVs; $4+K Desktop computers; and $1.5K printers a few years back. Millions are still paying $3K for 3D HDTV and $1K for small tablets that will both cell for 1/4 to 1/5 that price in about 5 years.


"such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology"

Currently all three are losing propositions. If you are convinced they are not, you haven't been doing your homework.


We still need oil, gas, and coal until such time as they can be replaced in a COST EFFECTIVE manner by cleaner and more efficient technologies.

The problem is too many people equate "cost effective" with "cheapest upfront price." Alternative energy technologies are NOT the future, they are here now! And although you will pay more to buy something like an electric car the operating costs are so low you will save more money over its lifetime.



What transition? I am the one advocating a transition and not wishing that one day we wake up with a magical electric paradise.

How can you deny 200,000,000 gasoline powered cars in the U.S.? How can you realistically say that in ten years they will all become electric cars?

You sound like the guy that says if you don't believe our dream then your are a "trash talker", not a team player, a shill for the oil and car companies. Get a figgin' life dude.


Dave R,

I did NOT say that Seimens was the only one with a design, please read more carefully next time.

What the heck it the matter with you people? Have a few of you gone off your rockers and have become SO fanatical as to believe your own BS?

I think synthetic fuels is A possible solution, that is all. I have heard a lot of grumbling and negativity which has now turned into essentially "liquid fuels are the devil's work". You really need to get some perspective.



You are NO prophet, not even close, that is for sure. We will review your rant periodically and take special note of your prediction that liquid fuels will become "quaint". I believe that all self proclaimed prophets should be held accountable for their absurd predictions.

Sean Prophet

Math, SJC. 2030 is 18 years away, not 10. I don't deny those cars exist, only that people will find it a good idea to drive them using conventional fuels in 2030. Anything gas-only that gets less than 40mpg will be junked by 2020 at the latest. Unless said vehicle is driven by the super rich or involved in commercial heavy transport. Mark my words. We're looking at $8-$10 gallon by 2020. Conventional autos are not viable for the middle class at those prices. Electric autos will be. The only savior of the ICE might be cheap renewable carbon neutral biofuels in such quantity as to satisfy world demand and depress conventional crude prices. But those renewable fuels will only be developed if there isn't a better alternative, such as advanced batteries.


"In March 2009, RL Polk released a study conducted between 2007 to 2008 which indicated that the median age of passenger cars in operation in the US increased to 9.4 years, and that the median age for light trucks increased from 7.1 years in 2007 to 7.5 years in 2008."

Half of the vehicles we drive now are going to be replaced within 10 years. What we replace them with is up to us.


"you haven't been doing your homework."

Like memorizing the Koch Brothers Gospel


Very few people (less than 10%) keep their car more than 10 years in our area. In reality, about 80%+ of us will change their car at least twice between now and 2030. If the next change was for a new HEV and the following change for a new BEV...that would leave fewer new ICEVs on the roads by 2020/2022 and very few new ICEVs on our roads after 2030.

Toyota has already sold about 3 M HEVs and many other manufacturers (and many more Toyota models) are getting on board in the next 2 or 3 years. By 2015, HEVs sales will multiply. Lower cost simplified PHEVs will also sell much better by 2015. BEVs will also sell much better after 2015 or whenever improved batteries are mass produced at lower cost.

By 2020/2025 or shortly thereafter, HEVs + PHEVs + BEVs will start to out sell ICEVs. By 2030, ICEVs (and HEVs) sales will be on a steep downward curve.

ICEVs with over 100g/Km emissions will soon be banned from many city centers.


You seem to think that in 8, 10 or 18 years so many more people will see the light and replace their cars with electric cars, I do not see the evidence and neither do you.

I used 2020 and 2030 because our favorite date naming contestant keeps using those. If I said in 1992 the EV1 cars would dominate and liquid fuel would be "quaint" by 2012, people would have said my predication was wrong and they would have been right.


"Mark my words.."

oooo Sean, we are so in awe of the "prophet", as if you know anything at all, wow, what a delusional mentality. NO one has a crystal ball, where they can see the future and neither do you.

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