Virginia Voters: Pump, Baby, Pump

by James A. Bacon

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.

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  1. larryg Avatar

    there’s something peculiar about the poll in that the same folks who are concerned about fracking apparently do not equate fracking with the purpose of the pipeline.

    did the folks who expressed concern about fracking know that the gas in the pipeline was going to come from fracking?

    1. That’s a logical question. I can only assume a certain amount of ignorance on the part of the voter.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The “Consumer” Energy Alliance? Funny but I don’t see one “consumer” advocate on the board, rather the pr spokeswoman for steel maker Nucor, a rural electrical coop, another other manufacturing types. Nary an environmentalist there. Nor a consumer.

    Of course, they’re going to have a poll showing that “Virginians” just love Dominion’s controversial pipeline project.

    Jim, if this is a sample of what the new Dominion sponsorship means then maybe we should quit before we are ahead.

    1. Peter, this is not an argument. It is an ad hominem attack. Your logic boils down to this: Consumer Electric Alliance has self-interested industry members. Ergo, nothing it says is legitimate and its poll results can be entirely discounted. No further thought required.

      I don’t recall you ever making the analogous argument that, say, the Sierra Club is an environmental organization, ergo, nothing it says is legitimate and its arguments can be discounted.

      My goal is to get beyond that kind of thinking and to look at the substance of the arguments.

      Now, there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the methodology employed by Hickman Analytics on behalf of the Consumer Energy Alliance. I raised some of them. Perhaps you could raise others. I am eager to hear them.

      Also, there can be other ways to interpret the polling data than the spin put on it by the Consumer Energy Alliance. I highlighted one particular point — the fact that Virginians are skeptical of fracking — that, to my knowledge, no one else has picked up. Perhaps you could point out other data that undermines the Alliance’s spin. If so, let’s hear it.

    2. One more thing, business and industry are “consumers” of electricity every bit as much as individual homeowners. Their interests are NOT the same as the electric power industry’s interests. Just ask Steve Haner, who lobbies for Newport News Shipbuilding! As commercial/industrial consumers of electricity, these guys do not carry water for Dominion, Appalachian Power Co. or any other electricity producer.

      1. larryg Avatar

        I’m on Peter’s side on this. I call such organizations agenda-driven because they are and when an agenda-driven organization – left or right or purple generates a poll that essentially supports it’s agenda – it’s suspect.

        No poll for that matter is above reproach .. if it is producing information that seems counter-intuitive or contrary to conventional views.

        I usually need to see a second poll.

        In this case – we have people who are not particularly in favor of fracking – in favor of a pipeline that will move gas from fracking.

        something does not quite add up – …

        It’s NOT an Ad Hominem to question the motives of any entity that has commissioned a poll that ends up supporting their agenda.

        that”s Ronald Reagan – trust but verify…

        where is Central Va in this Poll by the way?

  3. mindful Avatar

    I would like to see this poll broken down by region. The Dominion pipeline is very unpopular in Central Virginia.

    Slightly off topic– I think that the Dominion sponsorship is great news and look forward to seeing your coverage. Just in time for the final Clean Power rules that are due from the EPA this summer.

    Hot off the presses from National Review Online today:

    Billions Spent on Green Upgrades with no Proof that They Saved Energy

    “I’m not surprised,” says Daniel Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “There’s little accountability. Whether it’s Solyndra or a myriad of other companies that have gone bad, the federal government just doubles down when they get it stupid the first time. Businesses do energy conservation all the time, and they tend to do it fairly well, because it’s their money. With the government’s money, at the end of the day, they don’t care.”

    Who pays for what is what I will be most interested in discovering.

    1. The poll does provide some cross-tabs for four “media markets” in the state: Washington, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke/other.

      Support strongly
      Washington/NoVa — 23%
      Norfolk — 25%
      Richmond — 29%
      Roanoke/other — 23%

      Support somewhat
      Washington/NoVa — 30%
      Norfolk — 31%
      Richmond — 29%
      Roanoke/other — 37%

      Oppose somewhat
      Washington/NoVa — 14%
      Norfolk — 19%
      Richmond — 12%
      Roanoke/other — 18%

      Oppose strongly
      Washington/NoVa — 9%
      Norfolk — 11%
      Richmond — 13%
      Roanoke/other — 8%

      1. Cville Resident Avatar
        Cville Resident

        Interesting way to break down the state. Like mindful, I wonder where central Virginia is included. Roanoke/other or Richmond? I assume Roanoke/other, though I’ve increasingly seen the Charlottesville area being included with Richmond in certain surveys. To see the oppose strongly to be highest in Richmond, I have to wonder if that does include the Charlottesville/Albemarle area which is heavily opposed.

    2. larryg Avatar

      ” Billions Spent on Green Upgrades with no Proof that They Saved Energy”

      consider this – “Billions spent in futile effort to require cars to get better mileage”. “It will ruin smooth running cars.. and require more expensive maintenance and repairs”.. Requiring cars to get better mileage is proof of the idiocy of the environmental movement”.

      and my other favorite – “requiring cars to use catalytic converters and unleaded gas is a huge waste of money and a monstrous travesty perpetrated on consumers”.

      what more?

      1. mindful Avatar


        How do you find the time to discuss almost every topic on this blog?

        I think your modus operandi is to drown out any posters here who might make comments that you don’t agree with.

        In this particular case, your response is complete nonsense and indicates that you know next to nothing about the subject.

        The article doesn’t address potentially new technologies that could save energy. It is addressing energy efficiency retrofits made to exisiting structures to reduce consumption. The ONLY way to tell if such retrofits are effective is to develop a methodology to track the reduction in energy use. That the federal government didn’t do so is the subject of a GSA inspector general report.

        Want more?

        1. larryg Avatar

          I believe in dialogue is my simple answer. I learn from it but I also have my views which I do share.

          What I point out to you specifically is that folks like National Review has a record of opinion on green energy and energy efficiency and it’s not particularly supportive and it reminds me of prior entities like them that had similar opposition to similar efforts to improve efficiency.

          it’s my view.

          I’m sorry if it offends you but I still will offer it.

          I invite you to google:

          ” “national review” solndra”

          “national review” gas mileage standards

          “national review” “energy efficiency”

          “national review” incandescent lights”

          and you’ll get a good idea of their basic views about these issues.

          which I do disagree with ….

          I just don’t find National Review a particularly objective observer of energy efficiency issues and more akin to what we’ve seen over the years as various industries have opposed efforts to increase efficiency and reduce pollution.

          I invite other views – but I also will add my own.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    No, it’s not a personal attack. Where do these people get off calling themselves a “Consumers” Energy Alliance . They are not consumers. They are at the other end of the food chain.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Peter, while I tend to agree with you, as most alliances from both the left and the right are merely creatures of people or entities with lots of money, why cannot a group call itself a “consumers alliance” when we have a person from the Other Washington deciding she is of another race? Seriously, it reminds me of a certain member of the Tysons Task Force who claimed he represented the McLean Citizens Association when he was neither appointed or recommended by the president of that organization.

      1. larryg Avatar

        TMT – they can call themselves whoever they want – but what counts is who they really are…

        Most pro-industry groups would not be considered “consumer” groups by most fair minded folks… it’s not a particularly honest portrayal of their primary interests.

        1. (1) Big industrial companies are the biggest consumers of energy and electricity of all. What better term than “consumer” is there to describe the common purpose for which their organization was formed?

          (2) Tell me how the poll was deficient. Was there something wrong with the sample? Did the pollster use leading questions? Were there other biases that might have crept into the poll? I am open to all of those types of criticisms. The fact that neither you nor Peter can cite any inadequacy in the construction and execution of this poll suggests to me that there is nothing to your argument.

          The bottom line is that you don’t like the results, so you try to de-legitimize them by maligning the source, and you continue to believe whatever the hell you want to believe.

          The line of attack you should pursue is to point out the obvious contradictions in the minds of the voters. As you pointed out above, “We have people who are not particularly in favor of fracking – in favor of a pipeline that will move gas from fracking.” Now

          1. larryg Avatar

            typically – the word “consumer” as in Consumer Reports does not mean the industry players. Using the word “consumer” can be a bit deceptive if it is not made clear who you are .. also.

            you asked what made the poll deficient. It was actually about other issues also so it was not overtly biased in my view but I’m still troubled how people who are circumspect about fracking are not as circumspect about pipelines to move gas from fracking.

            Did the poll respondents know that the Atlantic Coastline pipeline was specifically to move frack gas?

            that part bothers me a little and I’d like to see a poll where people KNOW what the actual purpose of the pipeline is and whether , for instance, people would approve the pipeline if it was to export gas overseas or not because that’s the eminent domain issue.

            in sum – it’s a little queasy when a group with an agenda cites a poll that supports their position but it’s okay if the poll was independent and had nothing to do with them.

            when the poll is one they commissioned then I’m not as comfortable and I expect it to be scrupulous and not have questions like ” were the respondents “ignorant” or “unaware”. They should have been made aware to start with.

            for the record – I don’t have a problem with fracking to date and found the EPA report to be what I expected.

            But I do have a problem with the way the pipeline is being pursued as if the proponents are entitled to do it , including telling people (like Keystone) that they were going to use ED if they did not cooperate. That’s bad public policy in my view for a govt-enabled monopoly that is also an investor-owned company.

          2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            A better term for large purchasers is, IMO, “enterprise customers.” “Consumers” suggests residential customers; maybe small business.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I suspect what the poll shows is that most folks in Va do not really know what the Atlantic Coast pipeline is and that it’s just another pipeline like the many that we already have and no big deal.

    I suspect you could have said Timbuktu Pipeline and the numbers would have been the same.

    It would have been fairly easy for the poll to ask : ” Do you support a pipeline to bring frak gas from the Appalachian Mountains to the East Coast or some such.


    “Do you think pipelines should follow existing rights-of-way or new corridors should be developed?


    Do you think pipeline companies should be able to condemn private property if the product is going to be sold to the highest bidder or exported?

    so do you get my drift?

    what was the poll really trying to find out?

    1. Agreed, those questions would have been illuminating. As I pointed out in my post, there were a lot of questions the poll could have explored but did not.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      There are good and obvious reasons to use the same corridor for a pipeline. But there good reasons for an opposite conclusion, most especially security and redundancy – the latter assuming interconnection of the two pipelines.

      1. larryg Avatar

        there are – I completely agree – but doesn’t Dominion owe people some kind of explanation and justification instead of just threatening them with a lawsuit if the don’t comply?

        Even VDOT will show alternatives with pluses and minuses even if they do put their thumbs on the scale at times!

        This is not a problem with a pipeline. It’s a problem with arrogance.

        you want win over people? Be polite. Show your reasons and the alternatives and pros/cons and yes.. offer to provide the county with natural gas for their schools or other things. Work with the counties and their citizens to find some acceptable accommodations.

        You don’t need to win everyone over – just some – enough.. get some folks on your side… and don’t give the opponents such obvious ways to exploit you!

        I swear – it’s as if Dominion .. WANTS to stir up trouble!!!

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Hickman Analytics?

    Hmm let’s see what your own personal truth squad (unfunded by Dominion Resources) has found about their earlier work:

    New Hampshire voters love arctic drilling:

    Also, Colorado voters love the Keystone XL Pipelines.

    Pull my other leg, Bacon, it squirts whiskey.

    Bad job, very bad job on your part. You are turning into a flack

  7. Once again, Peter, your logic goes as follows: Hickman releases a poll result that I, Peter Galuszka, don’t like. By definition, Hickman is illegitimate and I can ignore what it says. I accept only research from people whose ideological orientation I share and whose results I find acceptable.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. Show me where Hickman erred in its methodology or the conclusions it drew, and we can have a conversation. You might actually be right. Hickman’s methodology and conclusions might be flawed. I’m open to a rational discussion. I’m open to the possibility that Hickman has stacked the deck in favor of its client — such things have been known to happen. But you have to explain to me how Hickman has biased its findings. So far, you haven’t done that.

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