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Political Ideology Drives Opinions on Key Energy Issues

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AUSTIN — Partisan politics are polarizing Americans’ views of several controversial energy issues, including the Keystone XL pipeline and hydraulic fracturing, according to the latest version of The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll.

The nationwide online poll, conducted March 4–13, shows that 72 percent of Republicans who say they are familiar with Keystone XL support its construction, compared with only 28 percent of Democrats familiar with the project.

Overall, less than half (42 percent) of the 2,078 survey respondents are familiar with Keystone XL, the final segment of a pipeline system that runs from western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Construction of this last phase, which has yet to be approved, has become a lightning rod for contentious public debate.

Nearly 2 out of 3 Republicans (62 percent) say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who favors completion of Keystone XL, compared with only 29 percent of Democrats surveyed. That said, overall support among survey respondents for candidates who favor construction of the pipeline has declined, from 46 percent six months ago to 39 percent today.

“We’re seeing a continuing divergence of views on key energy issues that clearly tracks political party lines,” said UT Energy Poll Director Sheril Kirshenbaum.

Somewhat surprisingly, only 6 percent of the Democrats surveyed who are familiar with Keystone XL and oppose its construction cite climate change as a top concern. Among this group, environmental degradation is the top reason they oppose the pipeline (36 percent) followed by the risk of water contamination (14 percent).

Among Republicans familiar with Keystone XL who support its construction, respondents were equally split among greater energy independence (26 percent), job creation (25 percent) and lower energy prices (25 percent) as principal reasons they support the project.

Political affiliations also influence perceptions of hydraulic fracturing for domestic oil and gas production, which has increased dramatically during the past decade and is seen as a key contributor to lower oil prices. Among survey respondents familiar with the technology, 65 percent of Republicans support hydraulic fracturing, compared with only 28 percent of Democrats.

Just 44 percent of Americans say they are familiar with hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Among them, more survey respondents say they oppose it (44 percent) than support it (42 percent) for the first time.

Support for hydraulic fracturing on public lands also has declined. Among survey respondents familiar with the practice, 42 percent say its use should be banned on public lands, compared with 34 percent a year ago.

Again, political ideology appears to be a key determinant of respondents’ views, with 57 percent of Democrats supporting a ban of hydraulic fracturing on public lands, compared with only 23 percent of Republicans. Conversely, 56 percent of Republicans say hydraulic fracturing on public lands should be promoted, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats surveyed.

The UT Energy Poll showed strong support for allowing cities to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders, even if state law otherwise permits it. Among respondents familiar with fracking, 58 percent say cities should be permitted to outlaw its use, while only 25 percent say municipalities should not have the authority to ban it locally.

“At present, it appears a large majority of Americans think cities should have the right to decide if they want to ban fracking locally,” Kirshenbaum noted.

Other findings in the UT Energy Poll:

  • Seventy percent of respondents say that climate change is occurring. This includes 86 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans.
  • Sixty-six percent of consumers consider today’s gas prices high, down from 93 percent one year ago — although they don’t expect low prices at the pump to last very long.
  • Eighteen percent say job creation is their top priority in terms of federal tax spending, down from 36 percent when the question was asked for the first time in September 2011.

The UT Energy Poll was launched in October 2011 to provide an objective, authoritative look at consumer attitudes and perspectives on key energy issues. The survey is designed to help inform national discussion, business planning and policy development. Data from the poll were weighted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, as well as propensity scores, to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual U.S. population.

Media contacts:

Sheril Kirshenbaum
sheril.kirshenbaum@mccombs.utexas.edu
(517) 763-2710

Gary Rasp
grasp@energy.utexas.edu
(512) 585-2084

Melinda Taylor, “House votes to bar fracking bans by cities,” Dallas Morning News

In an article about the House’s move on April 17, 2015 to bar cities from banning fracking and placing other limits on oil and gas drilling after a debate that pitted a key state industry against communities’ desire for local control, the Dallas Morning News quoted KBH Energy Center Executive Director Melinda Taylor on how the bill would leave a legal avenue wide open for oil and gas companies to challenge even the most noncontroversial of ordinances. “It’s really cutting into the tradition of local power in Texas,” said Professor Taylor. “It will open the door for a slew of new lawsuits that are frankly unnecessary.”

KBH Energy Center Executive Director Melinda Taylor Speaks on Collaborative Approaches to Regional Subsurface Challenges at 2015 X Latin American Forum in Mexico City

On April 15, 2015, Melinda Taylor, the KBH Energy Center’s executive director, participated in the X 2015 Latin American Forum on Energy and the Environment in Mexico City. Professor Taylor spoke on a panel called “A Conversation on Collaborative Approaches to Regional Subsurface Challenges.” Leigh Evans, a partner at Environmental Resources Management, and Cecilia De La Macorra, the Latin American director of International Government Relations at Exxon Mobil Corporation, were also on the panel.

KBH Energy Center Executive Director Melinda Taylor speaks on Collaborative Approaches to Regional Subsurface Challenges at X 2015 Latin America Forum on Energy and the Environment in Mexico City
KBH Energy Center Executive Director Melinda Taylor speaks on Collaborative Approaches to Regional Subsurface Challenges at X 2015 Latin America Forum on Energy and the Environment in Mexico City

The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences Latin American Forum on Energy and the Environment is a unique by-invitation-only free to attend program that addresses a critical need to bring together public and private sector decision makers, scholars and scientists, to foster dialogue around the sustainable development of energy resources and environmental issues.

Its focus is to advance collaborative cross-disciplinary academic, research and networking opportunities between Mexican and United States geoscientists from academia and the private and public sector.

The Forum’s technical panels are being developed with the support and cooperation of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico’s (UNAM) geoscience research centers, as well as with Mexico’s geoscience professional societies.

The 2015 X Latin American Forum on Energy and the Environment also underscores the objectives of the United States – Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research, the Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholarship Program, 100,000 Strong in the Americas and Proyecto 100 MIL initiatives which bring together academia, the public and private sectors so as to promote student exchanges, quality post-secondary education and scientific research cooperation between Mexico and the United States especially in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

For more information, visit the X 2015 Latin American Forum website.

Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at The University of Texas at Austin Releases Report Highlighting the Climate Benefits of Reducing Pipeline Gas Losses

AUSTIN, Texas – The Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at The University of Texas at Austin released a report today by Romany Webb, a post-graduate research fellow in the Center, which examines the hidden environmental costs of compensating pipelines for natural gas losses. The report is the first comprehensive analysis of the regulation of lost and unaccounted-for gas across every U.S. jurisdiction. “The existing regulatory frameworks don’t do enough to encourage pipeline operators to reduce gas losses due to leaks” said Professor Melinda Taylor, a senior lecturer at the UT School of Law and the KBH Energy Center’s executive director. “Our report suggests a new approach that would encourage improved leak management, reducing greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change.”

The KBH Energy Center’s report cites numerous studies finding that although substituting natural gas for coal or oil in electricity generation and other applications can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants, helping to mitigate climate change and improve air quality, these reductions are frequently offset by emissions during natural gas production. The report argues that realizing the full benefits of this so-called “clean fossil fuel” will therefore require changes in the production process. It urges action to prevent natural gas – which is comprised principally of methane – leaking from the pipeline system. The report notes that there is, however, currently little incentive for pipeline operators to repair system leaks as the cost of leaked gas can be passed through to ratepayers.

“Pipeline operators can recover the cost of so-called lost and unaccounted-for gas, including gas that escapes through system leaks” said Webb. “Many operators have reported gas losses exceeding ten percent of pipeline throughput, with some reporting losses as high as twenty or even thirty percent. This is incredibly wasteful and poses a serious threat to public safety and the environment.”

What changes need to be made to the current frameworks for recovery of lost and unaccounted-for gas in each U.S. jurisdiction to encourage improved management of pipeline leaks? The report recommends a series of changes to the current frameworks to encourage improved management of pipeline leaks, namely that:

  1. lost and unaccounted-for gas should be reported based on a standard definition and calculated using a consistent methodology,
  2. the cost recovery framework should be reformed to incentivize reduction of lost and unaccounted-for gas,
  3. pipeline operators’ claimed gas losses should be carefully scrutinized, and
  4. the federal and state regulations should establish an appropriate cap on cost recovery for lost gas.

“These reforms would create a powerful incentive for pipeline operators to improve system management to reduce gas losses” said Webb. “This can help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and thereby slow the pace of global climate change.”

View a post summarizing the report on the KBH Energy Center’s Blog.

For additional information, contact Romany Webb at (512) 232-1408 or rwebb@law.utexas.edu.

About the KBH Energy Center

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business is an innovative interdisciplinary joint venture of the School of Law and the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. The mission of the KBH Energy Center is to provide the finest educational opportunities in the United States to students who wish to pursue careers in energy and to serve as a nexus for incisive, unbiased, and relevant research and analyses for policy makers, with a special emphasis on Latin America.

About Romany Webb

Romany Webb’s current research focuses on managing the environmental impacts of oil and gas production. Webb previously worked at the University of California, Berkeley, where she researched climate change policy. She has also practiced energy and water law in Sydney, Australia.

Brazilian legal scholar Marilda Rosado gives talk on challenges to the oil and gas industry in Brazil at the KBH Energy Center

On April 21, 2015, Brazilian legal scholar Marilda Rosado gave a talk on challenges to the oil and gas industry in Brazil. Her presentation focused on recent trends, a comparative look at what’s happening in the oil and gas sector in other Latin American countries, legal highlights, upcoming opportunities, and challenges. According to Rosado, the biggest challenges include (1) corporate governance, (2) regulatory governance, and (3) good governance, soft law, and global administrative law.

View a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation.

View Professor Rosado’s bio.

Marilda Rosado, Professor of International Law and Oil & Gas Law at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, speaks to faculty and students at Texas Law about challenges to the oil & gas industry in Brazil.
Marilda Rosado, Professor of International Law and Oil & Gas Law at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, speaks to faculty and students at Texas Law about challenges to the oil & gas industry in Brazil.

Visiting Professor Owen Anderson gives distinguished lecture at KBH Energy Center on emerging energy issues in the developing world

Owen Anderson, a Visiting Professor from University of Oklahoma College of Law, gave a distinguished lecture on April 16, 2015 at the KBH Energy Center. Professor Anderson spoke about emerging energy issues in the developing world. Professor Anderson argued that if geology is favorable, a well-designed subsoil fiscal and legal system can address today’s challenges in Africa and in other poor regimes of the world. Specifically, a well-designed subsoil fiscal and legal system can ensure that both Host Governments and investors will attain their respective development goals – the capture of economic rents and a reasonable rate of return, as well as allow for “durable and satisfying” development.

Professor Anderson is the Eugene Kuntz Chair of Law in Oil, Gas and Natural Resources, George Lynn Cross Research Professor, and Director of the John B. Turner LL.M. Program in Energy, Natural Resources & Indigenous Peoples Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He also regularly teaches at the University of Texas and at other universities on six continents. In 2011, he received the Clyde O. Martz Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation.

View a PDF of Professor Anderson’s PowerPoint Presentation.

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Visiting Professor Owen Anderson discusses oil and gas issues in the developing world.
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Audience members included UT faculty, students, and staff from departments across campus, including law, business, engineering, geosciences, and public affairs, as well as members of the Austin community.