Do environmental groups have more effective messaging on hydraulic fracturing than the oil and gas industry? During today's OnPoint, Alan Krupnick, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Policy and a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, discusses surveys completed by RFF in Texas and Pennsylvania on attitudes toward shale gas development and messaging. Krupnick also explains how he believes recent fracking bans in Colorado will affect the broader national debate.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Alan Krupnick, director of the Center for Energy Economics and a senior fellow at Resources for the Future. Alan, thanks for joining me.
Alan Krupnick: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: Alan, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently said that there is a lot of misinformation and confusion in the United States surrounding fracking and that the industry needs to do a better job of educating the public. This ties into a survey that RFF recently did on attitudes towards shale gas development, and you focused on Texas and Pennsylvania, and you actually found that folks there would be willing to pay more to ensure that fracking is done safely. Talk a bit about the survey that you did.
Alan Krupnick: So, this was a random sample of people living in Pennsylvania and Texas, so it's mainly picking up people in urban areas, because that's where most of the people are. So you should keep that in mind as we talk. So, yes, we asked for people, I think what's most relevant here is that we asked them about whether they support or oppose shale gas development in their state. And what we find is quite interesting, because we find that there's not that much difference between Pennsylvanians and Texans in their degree of support. And in addition we asked people about their attitudes towards the risk that shale gas development poses or the risks they perceive that shale gas development poses. And, again, not much difference there in the way they evaluate the risks, and the bottom line of that, of those questions, was that actually people are generally in favor of shale gas development in these states but they're also very worried about the risks. So the bottom line for us is people are interested in sustainable development of our shale gas resources. So when we see these concerns about bans and moratoria, I mean, certainly that's happening, but I think at least in these two states people are pretty supportive of shale gas development as a whole but they're concerned about the risks. They want it to be done correctly.
Monica Trauzzi: But you found that there's this general willingness to pay extra to ensure safety. How does that translate into policy or regulation?
Alan Krupnick: So, we asked people how much they'd be willing to pay in higher natural gas prices for generating electricity, for heating their homes. We asked them that question and we asked them to choose various programs that involved improvements in reduced risks for groundwater pollution, surface-water pollution, rivers and streams, air quality, habitat protection, and community effects like greater congestion in driving around the community. So what it turned out was that certainly people were willing to pay and about the same in Texas and Pennsylvania in terms of reducing their groundwater risks. People are quite concerned about groundwater risk; it's kind of their peak concern. What was interesting was that the Texans were willing to pay more to reduce surface-water risks than Pennsylvanians, and we can always speculate, really, but we think that water resources in Texas are so much more scarce than they are in Pennsylvania that Texans are a lot more worried about it. So that's an example of where these two states diverge but where still both populations are willing to pay to reduce these risks.
Monica Trauzzi: There's a question here about messaging that the industry is putting out versus that of environmental groups. What did you find? I mean, does this point to some weaknesses in the industry's messaging?
Alan Krupnick: So I've got to go into a little bit of the survey to get to the messaging. So what we did is we asked people whether they were concerned about these environmental risks and whether they were supportive of the industry in the beginning of the survey. Then we gave people one of three information treatments, we called them, so just a page or two on what the risks of shale gas development really are. Now, no one actually knows what the risks are, so what we did is we took the American Petroleum Institute's description of what the risks are from their website. We took the description of what the risks are from the environmental NGOs' websites. A couple of them we needed to make it comparable. And then we wrote one ourselves to be the rational middle. And so people got these different information scripts at random, so we could tell what the effect of the information scripts were on their willingness to pay and on their concerns about environmental risk and their support of the industry, because we asked that question again both after they got the information and before, so we could see how much the information changed people's attitudes. So that's where the messaging comes in, and what we find was that the environmental, the NGOs' script, the environmental community, was extremely good at peeling off supporters of shale gas development, people who said they were supporters in the beginning. They got the NGOs' script and then they said, "Well, I'm not as sure as I was before about how much I'm supporting the industry." Industry, on the other hand, was not at all good at moving opposers towards support, and they in fact were, for the people that got the industry's script, they were just as likely to say, "I'm less supportive of shale gas development than more supportive." So, the industry message is causing a fair number of people, we have about 40 percent of our sample that's actually moving in response to this information; it's changing their opinions.
Monica Trauzzi: I want to get a question in here about what we saw happening in Colorado earlier this month. Three cities approved measures that would stop fracking. Some folks say that this type of push-back is very regionally specific and that it doesn't point to a broader trend. What's your take on how actions like that happening on the very local level weigh in to some of the broader national debate?
Alan Krupnick: So our survey couldn't really, it wasn't designed to address very localized concerns that citizens have, and in college towns around the country there is definitely movement towards banning, how far this will spread, I don't know. In Ohio those attempts, legislative or referenda attempts, didn't go through. In a couple places in Colorado they did. I don't see this as being an overarching trend, but I think the more important thing is that the public does not trust industry. It comes back to the messaging and it comes back to industry behavior. The public does not trust industry to develop these resources right, and part of that is a message. Part of that is behavior, and the industry needs to up its game to develop the shale gas sustainably and regain the public's trust. It's kind of like Obama now trying to regain the public's trust on health care. Well, the industry needs to do that, and they've been trying to do it, but they need to do a much better job.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, Alan, we're going to end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show. Very interesting.
Alan Krupnick: Sure. My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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