Last week the results of a recent survey by The Harris Poll of American's attitudes toward various energy sources were released. The message delivered by some of the media was that Americans believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks. What we found when we looked at the details of the poll was that while 66% of Americans polled believe the benefits outweigh the risk, up two percentage points from the same survey in 2011, the percentage is unchanged from 2009. On the other hand, 17% of Americans believe the risks outweigh the benefits of natural gas, unchanged from the 2011 poll but up three percentage points from 2009. The other interesting data point is that the percentage of Americans who are not sure about the benefits or risks has declined from 20% in 2009 to 18% in 2011 and now only 17%. That suggests attitudes are solidifying and, based on the trend of this negative view, the environmental campaign against natural gas because of how it is extracted has gained strength during the past several years.
When fuel sources are ranked by the percentage of people considering that the benefits outweigh the risks, solar and wind are considerably ahead of natural gas, 79% and 76% versus 66%, respectively. Behind those three fuels is geothermal (53%), coal (42%), nuclear (40%) and biomass (30%). Over time, the poll results show no change in the rating of biomass and geothermal, but there was a four percentage point decline in the acceptance of nuclear while there was a six percentage point improvement in coal's rating. The decline in the nuclear rating is not surprising given the Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor meltdown. Although Americans are not as concerned about the risk of nuclear, around the world, especially in Germany, nuclear power has been determined to create a huge risk requiring the replacement of the country's entire fleet of reactors. In response to the view that benefits outweigh risks, when people are classified by age, there are some interesting trends and divergences. There is a nine percentage point spread between the youngest and oldest in their views of solar, and a seven point spread for wind. In the case of natural gas, the spread widens to 31 percentage points with a noticeable spread between Echo Boomers (18-35 years old) and Gen X (36-47) versus Baby Boomers (48-66) and Matures (67+).
Between the Matures and Echo Boomers there is a 21 percentage point spread for coal and a 19 point difference for nuclear. In both cases, the Matures believe these fuels have greater benefits than risks. When it comes to biomass, the younger group has a more positive view than do the Matures. That is the only fuel source where the Echo Boomers hold a more favorable view than do the Matures. This data suggests the older population is much more receptive to an "all of the above" energy supply mixture. The problem is that the current administration, for all its claims about wanting to develop and use all forms of energy, continues to side with those people most opposed. This may be another example of "old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill."
G. Allen Brooks works as the Managing Director at PPHB LP. Reprinted with permission of PPHB.
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