How do voters view Washington's political debate on energy? During today's OnPoint, Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, discusses a new national survey on voters' attitudes toward energy in the West and throughout the United States. Wigley also weighs in on the Bureau of Land Management's recent move to reduce access to oil shale lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance. Tim thanks for coming back on the show.
Tim Wigley: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Tim, your organization has just wrapped some extensive focus-group sessions and a national survey on voters' attitudes towards energy in the West and also the United States. Who did you poll?
Tim Wigley: A thousand what we call high-performing voters, voters that vote frequently and regularly and they tend to be voters who watch the news, who read the newspaper or get their news from the internet or a variety of sources but we wanted to get a good handle from people who actually pay attention to issues that involve energy development.
Monica Trauzzi: Red states, blue states?
Tim Wigley: All of 'em. We have samples from all 50 states and, again, 1,000 high-performing voters so it's a good representative sample.
Monica Trauzzi: Obviously politics plays a huge role in the energy game here in Washington. Is the current political debate reflective of what the voters are saying about energy?
Tim Wigley: Well, I look back to last year's 2012 election and in my memory dating back to the 1980 election cycle where energy played a big role, it played a pretty significant role particularly in some key Senate races in the west that are energy-development states. I think you will find in talking to voters around the country that they are strongly supportive of domestic energy production. You don't always hear that in the Congress because they get bogged down in all kinds of other issues but the public wants to see it happen.
Monica Trauzzi: So let's talk some specifics. On regulation your analysis showed that just about the same number of folks believe there are too many or just the right amount of regulations on the oil and gas industry. We saw 34 percent versus 30 percent. How should that shape the regulatory focus here in the U.S.?
Tim Wigley: That's a very similar number than what we had last year. I don't think people have a problem or too great of concerns about how much rules and regulations we have now. I think what they want to see is see them work better, work more efficiently. The problem we're facing in energy development is the private lands and state lands -- oftentimes permits -- are often 15, 30, 45 days. On federal lands it's an average of about 307 days so it's a large arduous process and I think the public wants to see that work more efficiently.
Monica Trauzzi: And any clarity on whether the federal government or state government should be leading the way on rules and regulations?
Tim Wigley: The voters that we surveyed like a mix of both, slightly a little bit more support for state agencies managing it because they're closer to the resource, closer to the geography and geology but the public clearly wants to see the federal government play a role, no question about it.
Monica Trauzzi: So we also see from your analysis that the public doesn't wholly trust the media for information on oil and gas. Only six percent view it as a viable source. Of course this made me very sad so where are voters getting information from then when it comes to oil and gas?
Tim Wigley: Well, more and more voters gain information from the World Wide Web, from the internet but they also trust universities, academia, I like to say people who have "oligist," or PhD or doctor by their name. There's a high level of credibility there.
Monica Trauzzi: What surprised you the most about what you found in these surveys?
Tim Wigley: We talked a lot about the word of the day or the word of the last few years, fracking, hydraulic fracturing and the fact that you know people rightfully have questions about it and it's become a big issue and in some ways it's become a four-letter word but there is strong support for, this is not a new technology. It's been around since the 1940s and I was pleased to see that as many people believe that we need to keep using that technology.
Monica Trauzzi: So let's switch gears and talk about some recent news. The Bureau of Land Management moved to reduce access to oil shale lands in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah recently. How does this move change the game and how does it impact potential investments?
Tim Wigley: Well, I was less-than-pleased to see them make that move at a time when we're always dealing with energy security/energy independence issues where we have tons of resources out there on federal lands to further reduce access to those lands to me makes no sense in a long-term energy policy so I would hope that Congress would really raise a stink about that because if you look around the country and see the states that are truly blooming economically they all happen to have the same characteristic and that's energy-development states. No reason why the entire west shouldn't be blooming like states like North Dakota.
Monica Trauzzi: How closely are you engaging with BLM as they work on royalty rules?
Tim Wigley: Well, on the royalty side, I'm not personally engaged with them. Our organization is. We've been more concerned about the pending fracking rule that BLM has worked on last year. We thought it might be released at the end of the year. There'll be more public-comment time for it when it finally comes out.
Monica Trauzzi: There were concerns by your organization initially about the impacts of sequestration on oil and gas drilling. Sequestration is in full force right now. Have there been material impacts on the oil and gas industry that you know of?
Tim Wigley: Well there's been talk about, you know, from the tax structure, tax deductions that we, as manufacturers, get. You keep hearing the term big oil subsidies. There are no big oil subsidies. Nobody in the oil and gas business gets checks from the federal government unlike you see in some of the other types, like wind and solar but clearly those -- we're told those tax deductions that other manufacturers take advantage of as well, they're going to be on the table. They're going to look at everything so it is a concern particularly when you have agencies that are underfunded, understaffed and we're trying to get permit process so we hope it's, these budget issues are solved soon because those agencies need the help.
Monica Trauzzi: Citigroup recently released an analysis suggesting that the world's oil demand will not continue to rise and this goes against sort of what the oil industry is projecting. They say that fuel efficiency, fuel cost and the switch to natural gas are all factors in making that determination. What's your take on the analysis and how a slowdown could potentially impact the investments that industry is making?
Tim Wigley: Well, I've not seen Citigroup's study but all indications that I've heard from experts that look at the industry and so forth show that with growing emerging economies throughout the world that demand is going to go up. Clearly we'd like to see more focus on demand as it relates to natural gas because it's clean, it's affordable, it's abundant but I don't see demand going down, not with the population growth the world is experiencing.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, Tim. We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Tim Wigley: Thank you for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Nice to see you and thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow./p>
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