Poll finds Americans lack understanding of key energy issues

When it comes to natural gas, Americans are enthusiastic. But when it comes to the hydraulic fracturing process that makes it possible — not so much, according to a national survey on energy issues released Thursday.

In the poll conducted by the University of Texas, more than 80 percent of respondents said they want the federal government to push development of natural gas.

But among the 40 percent of  survey respondents who said they were familiar with hydraulic fracturing, only 38 percent supported the technology, down from 45 percent six months ago.

Report: US oil growth having limited effect on energy security

The conflicting responses to the survey reveal persistent confusion over the renaissance of natural gas production in the United States. Oil and natural gas production has soared in the last five years, driven largely by advances in  hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

“What we’re seeing is the real disconnect between energy and the American public,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, energy poll director for the University of Texas, in a written statement. “In some instances, ideology may influence attitudes, but there’s unquestionably a lack of understanding across a broad swath of energy issues that affect each of us.”

Critics say hydraulic fracturing — injecting water, sand and chemicals into reservoirs to force out oil and gas — requires excessive water use and might cause environmental harm. Supporters praise it as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing an abundance of natural gas, which emits less carbon than other fossil fuels when it burns.

The survey respondents tied their support for natural gas mainly to its lower carbon emissions, with more than half  saying it’s beneficial for that reason.

They’re also enthusiastic about renewable energy. Nearly 9 out of 10 said the government should promote renewable technologies.

However, the poll found that Americans have become less engaged in energy issues overall. About 62 percent of those surveyed in September said energy issues are important, compared to 67 percent a year earlier. And the percentage who said they are interested in energy issues dropped to 47 percent in September 2013 from 52 percent a year earlier.

UT poll: Little public support for natural gas exports

Still, financial concerns remain at the forefront. Nearly three out of four respondents expect the portion of their household budget spent on energy to increase within the next year.

The online survey, which the University of Texas has conducted every six months since September 2011, polled 2,144 people weighted to reflect national demographics between September 5 and September 23.

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Balancing act needed to win with hydraulic fracturing