Despite Intense Negative Media Focus, Americans Still Believe the Benefits of Natural Gas Outweigh the Risk

NEW YORK , N.Y. – March 21, 2012 – In a year of intense media scrutiny on hydraulic fracturing, the manner in which most oil and natural gas companies access natural gas, two-thirds of Americans (66%) say they believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks while 17% say the risks outweigh the benefits. Natural gas has maintained a relatively low price, compared to other fuels with similar uses (like fuel oil and gasoline). Additionally, it is considered a relatively clean source of energy. For Americans, these factors seem to outweigh the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, the extraction method most associated with gas.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,056 adults surveyed online between February 6 and 13, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

There are significant generational differences, however, Echo Boomers (ages 18-35) are less likely to believe the benefits outweigh the risks than Matures (those 67 and older) are (53% vs. 84%). And, people living in the East are less likely than those in the West to agree that the benefits outweigh the risks (60% vs. 71%).

There is also a political difference when it comes to feelings on natural gas. Three out of four Republicans (74%) believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks compared to just over three in five Democrats (62%) and over two-thirds of Independents (69%) who believe the benefits outweigh the risks. Looking at the reverse, the partisan differences are significant, with larger portions of Democrats (21%) and Independents (19%) believing the risks outweigh the benefits than Republicans who believe this (10%).

The close divide over coal

In 2009, two in five Americans (42%) said the risks of using coal outweighed the benefits while 36% believed the benefits outweighed the risks. In 2011, the view did not change all that much as 38% said benefits outweighed risks, but 43% believed the risks outweighed the benefits. This year, the number of people who say the benefits outweigh the risks continues to inch upward as 42% say that while 40% currently say the risks outweigh the benefits.

There are some clear regional and generational differences for coal. Almost half of those in the Midwest (49%) and South (48%) say the benefits outweigh the risks compared to 35% of those in the East and 33% of those in the West. There is also a clear age divide as Baby Boomers (ages 48-66) and Matures are more likely to say benefits of coal outweigh the risks than both Echo Boomers and Gen Xers (ages 36-47); over half of Matures (54%) and 47% of Baby Boomers say the benefits of coal outweigh the risks compared to 39% of Gen Xers and 33% of Echo Boomers.

So What?

At the end of the day, what matters most to Americans is how much they are paying to heat their homes and fuel their lifestyles. This may explain why natural gas has maintained a positive position relative to its risks, said Sarah Simmons, Senior Research Executive and Industry Thought Leader. Natural gas is inexpensive, clean and accessible. Americans’ view of coal suffers, especially when we look at generational breaks due to environmental factors.

 

TABLE 1

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES

There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S. To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?

Base: All adults

 

BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS (NET)

Benefits strongly outweigh risks

Benefits somewhat outweigh risks

RISKS OUTWEIGH BENEFITS (NET)

Risks somewhat outweigh benefits

Risks strongly outweigh benefits

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

2012

79

63

15

8

4

4

13

2011

77

64

13

8

3

6

14

2009

82

68

14

5

3

2

13

Wind

2012

76

61

16

9

5

5

15

2011

75

61

14

10

3

7

15

2009

78

62

17

7

4

2

15

Natural gas

2012

66

34

32

17

12

5

17

2011

64

31

34

17

11

6

18

2009

66

30

36

14

11

3

20

Geothermal

2012

53

32

21

10

6

4

37

2011

52

33

18

10

5

5

38

2009

52

32

20

7

5

2

40

Coal

2012

42

15

27

40

23

17

18

2011

38

15

23

43

24

18

19

2009

36

13

23

42

22

20

22

Nuclear

2012

40

15

24

41

19

21

20

2011

42

20

22

37

18

19

21

2009

44

21

23

34

17

17

22

Biomass

2012

30

13

17

12

8

4

58

2011

30

14

17

12

7

6

57

2009

28

12

16

12

8

4

60

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


 

TABLE 2

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES – By Generation, Region and Party

There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S. To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?

Percentage Saying Benefits Outweigh Risks

Base: All adults

Total

Region

Generation

Political Party

East

Midwest

South

West

Echo

Boomers

(18-35)

Gen X

(36-47)

Baby

Boomers

(48-66)

Matures

(67+)

Rep

Dem

Ind

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

79

78

74

80

83

75

74

83

84

79

79

83

Wind

76

72

76

77

80

72

75

80

79

74

78

82

Natural Gas

66

60

66

67

71

53

65

71

84

74

62

69

Geothermal

53

48

56

50

59

50

49

54

62

55

51

56

Coal

42

35

49

48

33

33

39

47

54

59

33

41

Nuclear

40

33

41

43

41

34

34

43

53

51

32

43

Biomass

30

28

32

29

33

31

31

32

24

31

29

32

 

 

 

TABLE 3

RISKS VERSUS BENEFITS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES – By Party

There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S. To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?

Percentage Saying Risks Outweigh Benefits

Base: All adults

Total

Political Party

Rep

Dem

Ind

%

%

%

%

Nuclear

41

28

49

44

Coal

40

23

50

46

Natural Gas

17

10

21

19

Biomass

12

10

13

14

Geothermal

10

9

11

11

Wind

9

12

8

8

Solar

8

9

9

9

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 6 to 13, 2012 among 2,056 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J41216

Q905, 910

 

 

The Harris Poll® #30, March 21, 2012

By Regina A. Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Public Relations and Youth and Education Research, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American and European offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.