By significant margins, Virginians support construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. Voters also support measures that would promote continued exploitation of fossil fuels, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline, off-shore drilling for oil and gas, and the generation of electricity using coal-fired power plants. Support for fossil fuels is broad-based, cutting across party and ideological lines.
That’s the big conclusion to emerge from an early June survey of 500 registered voters by Chevy Chase, Md.-based Hickman Analytics Inc. for the Consumer Energy Alliance, an organization describing itself as the “voice of the energy consumer.” Fifty-six percent of those polled support the pipeline either “strongly” or “somewhat,” compared to only 25% who oppose it. (The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.)
However, the poll showed the electorate to be evenly split over the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a sentiment that could diminish support for the pipeline in the future.
Media coverage of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline so far has framed the controversy as a property rights/eminent domain issue, focusing primarily on objections raised by landowners along the route. While land owners may care deeply about the impact of the pipeline on their property values, the issue barely registers among voters generally. Only two percent of the voters surveyed mentioned “eminent domain” as a reason for opposing the pipeline.
Virginia voters are far more ambivalent about fracking. While they support offshore drilling, the Keystone Pipeline (which would transport oil extracted from Canadian tar sands) and coal-fired power generation, voters split evenly over fracking.
Moreover, fracking foes are more intense in their opposition — those who strongly oppose fracking number 23% compared to 15% who strongly support it.
As Atlantic Coast Pipeline works through the property rights/eminent domain issues by re-drawing the pipeline route and adopting other palliative measures, expect foes to shift the terms of debate. Only 1% of poll respondents cited fracking as a reason for opposing the pipeline — a miniscule percentage that may reflect voter ignorance of the fact that a considerable proportion of the natural gas transported by the pipeline would originate from fracked wells. Insofar as foes manage to depict the pipeline as an adjunct to and enabler of fracking, they may gain political traction.
The Hickman Analytics poll seems to be reasonably objective, although it is not without its limitations.
On the positive side, the poll draws from a sample that is reasonably representative of the electorate — 45% Democrats compared to 37% Republicans; 30% liberals compared to 44% conservatives.
Also positive, the wording of the poll question is neutral: “As you may know, there is a proposal to build a 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to bring natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?” Crucially, pollsters asked that question before they asked other questions relating to offshore drilling, Keystone XL Pipeline, coal-fired power plants and other questions that might have biased a response.
On the negative side, the poll did not plumb voter views on fossil fuel pollution, CO2 emissions or renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biofuels that are regarded as alternatives to natural gas.
Then, yet again, neither did the poll explore other complexities to the pipeline debate. For instance, pipeline supporters make the connection between pipeline construction, economic development and jobs. Also, an argument can be made that natural gas-fired electricity is a complement to intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The poll did not address any of those issues either.
In sum, the findings are highly favorable to Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the consortium of companies behind it — Dominion, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources — but point to potential difficulties down the road if foes tap into Virginians’ ambivalence over fracking.There are currently no comments highlighted.