Survey: US public underestimates role of oil, gas in energy future

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 29 -- Although Americans recognize that the US will need more energy in coming years, they continue to underestimate the amount of oil and gas which government experts say will be needed to meet that demand, a survey commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute found.

Conversely, respondents in API’s third annual Energy IQ survey which Harris Interactive conducted for the oil and gas industry association, overestimated renewable energy sources’ contribution to meeting future energy demand, the amount of oil the US imports from the Middle East, and oil and gas industry earnings, API said on June 29.

“The American public wants to believe there is a silver bullet answer to our energy challenges despite what government experts predict,” said Jim Hoskins, a Harris Interactive senior vice-president. “Americans have become more aware of how current policies limit increased domestic production, but they also continue to subscribe to common, yet critical, misperceptions about how the industry operates and the energy we’ll need to meet growing demand.”

API said it commissioned the online research of 1,298 US adults between Apr. 30 and May 8, and compared results with responses from the 2 previous years. API said while the US Energy Information Administration projects that domestic energy demand will increase 9% in the next 20 years, most respondents said that they thought demand would climb 16-21%. Only 5% chose the correct answer, API said.

The survey found that when asked what percentage of global energy demand would be met by oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuels, only 10% responded correctly that it would be 85%. API said that this was the second consecutive year the number has dropped, even though EIA’s number for reliance on fossil fuels has risen by 5% since 2008.

Similarly, it continued, while EIA projects that more than 55% of energy demand in 2030 will be by oil and gas, only 16% of the survey’s respondents gave the same answer.

Other misconceptions
Respondents generally overestimated the amount of US oil and gas imports from Persian Gulf producers, according to API. It noted that the US Department of Energy has said that 12% of the oil consumed in the US in 2008 came from that region, and that 7% of the survey’s respondents chose that number. “More than 40% of respondents believed that over 30% of our oil supply comes from the Persian Gulf,” it said.

API said 53% of the survey’s respondents said they believed Saudi Arabian is America’s largest foreign oil supplier when, in fact, Canada is, according to DOE.

“Only 5% of respondents knew that more than 73% of oil and gas consumed in the US was produced in North America. This is down 3% from last year’s survey,” said API. “A surprising 42% were under the misconception that the answer was less than 35%.”

It said that the survey’s responses also indicate that the public underestimates the oil and gas contributions to the US economy through jobs and taxes, while overstating the industry’s profits.

“Only 15% of respondents knew that 6 million Americans are employed directly or indirectly by the oil and gas industry,” API said. “Only 9% of respondents knew that oil companies pay more than 40% in income taxes as a share of their income. The majority thought that it was less than 30%, with one third of all respondents under the misconception that companies pay less than 15% in income taxes.”

The complete survey and more information are available at www.energytomorrow.org/energyiq.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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