Poll shows public’s disconnect with energy issues

Leslie Zhang

A UT Energy Poll revealed several disconnects between public perception of energy issues and the way those issues exist in reality.

“[The poll] reflects that people don’t understand a lot of energy issues, a lot about technology, about how energy plays a role in their lives,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT energy poll.

The poll is conducted twice a year by the McCombs School of Business’ Energy Management and Innovation Center.

While a majority of people polled said they would like to see the federal government focus on developing natural gas, the data showed a decrease in public support of hydraulic fracturing, an integral part of the natural gas extraction process.

Engineering communications professor Deborah Hempel-Medina worked in the energy industry for 20 years before joining the petroleum and geosystems engineering department at the University. Hempel-Medina said hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been the subject of negative media attention in recent years.

“It’s not a process that’s been talked about outside of industry until the past 10 years,” Hempel-Medina said. “I feel it’s gotten more into mainstream conversation because it was revolutionized in the DFW area. The public had some questions because oil and gas companies had previously not worked around urban areas.”

The results of the poll also revealed a wide-held misconception about the ways the United States imports its oil. Although Canada is the largest foreign supplier of American oil, a majority of poll respondents said they believed Saudi Arabia was the foremost supplier.

Hugh Daigle, petroleum and geosystems engineering assistant professor, said this misconception is likely a result of a lasting stigma from the Middle Eastern oil crisis in the 1970s. In 1973, several oil-exporting Arab countries declared an oil embargo in response to the United States’ support of the Israeli military, leading supply to plummet and sending gas prices sky-rocketing.

“At the time, there was a lot of emphasis and press about how the source of our oil was in the Middle East,” Daigle said. “Even though it was 40 years ago, those ideas have persisted. It’s true they export a lot of oil, but what we get in the U.S. isn’t correlated with that.”

Though the initial goal of the poll was to drive informed decisions on public policy, the results can be useful for business education or academic perspectives in general said Tanya Andrien, associate
director of the center.

“The marketing department is looking at it from a marketing perspective,” Andrien said. “[The poll] tied in nicely with research and educational aspects as well as our desire to inform discussion about policy.”