Support for regulation of hydraulic fracturing has increased in the past three months, a sign that the gas-drilling practice is facing greater public scrutiny.
A Bloomberg National Poll found that 66 percent of Americans want more government oversight of the process, known as fracking, in which water, chemicals and sand are shot underground to free gas trapped in rock. That’s an increase from 56 percent in a September poll. The poll found 18 percent favored less regulation, down from 29 percent three months ago.
“More people are aware of fracking, and they are a little bit more opposed to it,” Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the University of Texas Energy Poll, said in an interview. The school’s polls also have asked questions on the topic, and “it’s becoming more familiar,” she said.
The Dec. 7-10 Bloomberg poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co.
Public awareness will likely increase after “Promised Land,” a film starring Matt Damon, is released in January. The film highlights the affects of gas drilling on a small Pennsylvania town, as farmers get a boost in income while confronting the risk of contamination to their land and animals. Damon’s character seeks to get landowners to lease their land to his gas company.
“I’m a big proponent of natural gas, but I still need to be sure that we are not damaging our water supply,” Dan Lowery, a poll respondent from Warrenton, Virginia, said in explaining his support for greater regulation. “You can’t stick your head in the ground.”
Industry groups for chemical, fertilizer and steel companies are trumpeting gains for the U.S. economy as natural gas supplies become more accessible. Low-cost natural gas could generate $72 billion in capital investment as petrochemical companies relocate or boost investments in the U.S., according to the American Chemistry Council.
“This trend is vital to America’s prosperity,” Rayola Dougher, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters yesterday. “However, costly or duplicative regulation of hydraulic fracturing could be incredibly” harmful, she said.
On another subject, the poll showed 62 percent of those surveyed agreed the Earth’s temperature is rising “because of human activity,” up from 58 percent in September. Twenty-eight percent said it’s not, down from 34 percent three months ago.
The Bloomberg Poll results reflect other surveys showing mounting public acceptance of the scientific consensus about global warming, reversing a drop in support during the global economic downturn that began in 2008.
“We now have regained much, if not all, of that” loss in backing, said Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at Fairfax, Virginia-based George Mason University.
There are differences in support by age. More than seven in 10 adults less than 35 years old support the proposition that human activity is causing global warming, while less than half of seniors do, according to the poll.
Carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to rising average temperatures in the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. A U.S. drought, about to enter its second year, has caused major economic damage from shriveled crops to low Mississippi River levels that are slowing barge traffic. Some researchers link the devastating affects of superstorm Sandy, which pummeled the East Coast in October, to rising sea levels and climate change’s propensity to lead to more and bigger storms.
Republicans are more skeptical of the science of climate change and have opposed steps to combat global warming, such as the failed cap-and-trade legislation aimed at reducing carbon and other harmful emissions that passed the House of Representatives in 2009.
In the poll, 72 percent of Republicans rejected the notion that President Barack Obama gained a mandate to tackle climate change with his re-election last month. Democrats by 69% do read the election results as a call to action. Americans generally are split on the issue with 46 percent saying the president has a mandate to act on climate change and 46 percent saying he doesn’t.
“The schisms between Republican and Democrats on this remain,” Maibach said in an interview.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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