America's Energy Illiteracy

November 7, 2013

Americans want more natural gas, but they don't favor the hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process used to produce it. That's the findings of a recent University of Texas survey in which 80 percent of the respondents said they want the feds to push natural gas development, says Loren Steffy in Forbes.

Part of the reason for the disconnect  is the anti-fracking campaigns of environmental groups that claim the drilling process taints groundwater, causes earthquakes and uses too much water. Much of the public discourse over fracking has focused on its potential impacts, with little discussion of the potential benefits.

  • Among the survey respondents who claimed a familiarity with fracking, only 38 percent said they supported it, a decline from 45 percent just a few months ago.
  • Nine out of 10 respondents also said the government should promote renewable energy, although it's not clear how many recognize that such technology is, at best, a supplemental source of energy rather than an alternative one.

The survey points to a broader public misunderstanding of energy issues.

  • While many who responded said they favored natural gas because it produced fewer carbon emissions than other fossil fuels, they didn't seem to acknowledge that reaping those benefits requires widespread use of fracking.
  • In the past five years, the United States has significantly reduced its dependence on foreign oil -- OPEC imports are down by 37 percent since 2007 -- thanks to hydraulic fracturing for both oil and natural gas.

Environmentalists have been far more effective at raising concerns about fracking than the energy industry has been at promoting fracking's economic benefits. The American public has never had a strong grasp of the forces that provide the energy it consumes or the tradeoffs involved.  We throw the switch and expect the lights to come on. We turn the key in the ignition and expect to get where we're going.

Source: Loren Steffy, "Confronting America's Persistent Energy Illiteracy," Forbes, October 22, 2013.

 

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