UT-Austin survey finds consumers dissatisfied with industry

Fewer than 14% of Americans think the country is headed in the right energy policy direction, a new University of Texas at Austin survey indicates. It also found that only 16% were satisfied with the way oil and gas companies address important energy issues, while 58% were dissatisfied.

Their outlook toward the industry probably reflected another finding in the survey that 36% believed energy companies exerted the most influence on prices, according to Wayne D. Hoyer, marketing department chairman at UT-Austin’s McCombs School of Business. That compared with 9% who said supply constraints were primarily responsible, he said on Oct. 19 as the university launched what it said would be a twice-yearly poll of consumers’ energy perceptions.

The oil and gas industry did better in this initial online poll of 3,406 US adults aged 18 or older than Congress, which was last with 8% satisfied and 71% dissatisfied with its energy policy efforts. It did not do as well as US President Barack Obama, with 26% of the respondents satisfied and 54% dissatisfied with his job on important energy issues.

The survey, which was conducted in September, also found that 84% of the respondents were worried about heavy US reliance on foreign crude oil, and 76% were concerned that little progress had been made in using energy more efficiently and developing renewable energy resources.

“This information is important because it reflects consumer sentiment, which is an important driver in energy policymaking,” Hoyer said. “It does not judge the quality of the perceptions. Similar surveys have been conducted before, but they were largely one-time events. To the best of our knowledge, ours will be the first long-term survey of consumer attitudes toward energy.”

Rare admission

He said that the survey, which has more than 100 questions, was developed in 2010 as a collaboration involving academia, polling companies, non-government organizations, energy producers, and consumer groups. One of its most striking findings was 34% of the respondents said they were not knowledgeable about energy, a rarity since survey respondents usually don’t like to admit this, he noted. High percentages said they were interested in learning more about improving personal consumption and local, national, and global energy issues, he added.

“This survey shows that the public craves leadership on energy issues,” said UT-Austin Pres. William Powers Jr. “Through our analysis of the data, we hope to add an authoritative voice to public debate on energy issues. The Energy Poll fits well with our commitments as a world-class research university to change the world for the better.”

Raymond L. Orbach, director of UT-Austin’s energy institute, said that he was struck by respondents’ great cynicism over the job institutions from business to government are doing in addressing major energy issues. Respondents were most satisfied with engineers and scientists, research institutes, wind and solar companies, and colleges and universities, he said.

“We must provide consumers with what they need to make informed energy decisions,” Orbach maintained. “It’s obvious we have our work cut out for us.” More information is available online.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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