Key Insights From the Oil and Gas Lobby’s New Polling

May 14, 2015

By Center for Western Priorities

Late last week, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA)—one of the oil and gas industry’s leading lobbying and public relations groups—released a national poll covering a wide range of topics, from energy regulations to wildlife management. The poll offers a few interesting lessons for those who care about conservation on our public lands.

Here are three key takeaways from the oil and gas industry’s own polling numbers:

1) The industry is very interested in efforts to “transfer” American public lands to state and private ownership

Until now, the oil and gas industry has remained quiet on whether it supports efforts by some politicians in Western states to compel the federal government to transfer national public lands into state and private hands.

But WEA’s poll is one of the first times that the industry has probed public opinion on this question, and asks respondents directly:

Who in your opinion should be the prime authority for management and regulations of the public lands in your region? Would you say the prime authority should be transferred to each state to manage the public land within their boundaries; be a shared responsibility between federal and state governments; or remain entirely under the federal government?

Unsurprisingly, only 38 percent of respondents think that responsibility for our national public lands should be transferred to the states. This finding mirrors previous public opinion research showing that Western voters oppose land transfers.

It’s long been established that the only way states could afford taking over the management of public lands would be to rapidly expand the pace and scale of industrial mineral development. While oil and gas companies stand to gain significantly, this approach cuts against a balanced land management policy supported by a vast majority of Westerners.

2) The industry’s commitment to undermining species protections is not supported by voters

The poll also focuses on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and wildlife management; 6 out of the 26 questions concerned the ESA and wildlife.

The prompt for Question 25 leads in with a biased framing against endangered species and wildlife conservation, before asking respondents whether or not they support reforming the ESA:

Many have argued that listing so many additional species under the Endangered Species Act will hurt the economy, and limit farming, ranching, recreation, construction, mining, energy development and other industries as well as potentially costing tens of thousands of jobs. Does knowing this make you more likely or less likely to support updating and modernizing the Endangered Species Act?

But even with such a hard spin, WEA doesn’t get the desired result: only 27% of respondents said that they were “strongly more likely” to support changing the law based on this question prompt, while an equal number said that they would be “strongly less likely” to support reforms based on this information.

The focus on wildlife and species protections is not surprising given WEA’s attempts to block ongoing collaborative efforts to avoid an endangered species listing for the greater sage-grouse.

3) The industry is trying hard to blame the Obama administration—but not itself—for the recent economic downturn experienced by oil and gas drillers

The poll demonstrates that the industry is trying to blame overregulation for its recent downturn in production.

Questions throughout the poll are filled with insinuations about “the overall number of rules and regulations,” claims the presidential administration has severely reduced energy production on federal public lands, and, in an effort to spin the results, the assertions that:

[The Environmental Protection Agency] is even contemplating regulations on personal barbeques and rate of shower flow in hotels. This is an overreach that is an intrusion into private life and hurts the country’s economy.

Blaming overregulation for the industry’s recent financial woes is misleading for a handful of reasons.

For one, the Bureau of Land Management under the Obama administration has issued a mere 12 rules regarding public lands. By contrast, President George W. Bush’s administration finalized 44, while President Clinton finalized 64 just in his second term. If anything, public land energy regulation has been scaled back under the current administration.

Additionally, the recent downtick in oil and gas production is the market’s response to America’s energy boom of the past several years. This boom-bust process repeats itself with regularity, and is a part of the cyclical ups-and-downs of the oil and gas business.