You can’t have it all

July 16, 2007
US drivers continue to harbor the notion that they can have it all: gasoline prices that won’t affect their driving habits, less carbon dioxide emissions, and a broader menu of cleaner fuels.

US drivers continue to harbor the notion that they can have it all: gasoline prices that won’t affect their driving habits, less carbon dioxide emissions, and a broader menu of cleaner fuels. More paradoxically, they want energy self-sufficiency while opposing the construction of refineries. This is according to a survey conducted by RBC Capital Markets in conjunction with its annual energy conference last month.

The survey of 1,001 participants proves that US consumers remain uninformed about how the oil and gas industry really works. The online survey, conducted May 11-18, 2007, had a margin of error of ±4.1%.

Similar findings have emerged in other surveys recently (see p. 26 and OGJ, May 14, 2007, p. 68).

NIMBY lives

The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) phenomenon is alive and kicking. According to the survey, 9 out of 10 respondents said the US must find ways to produce more domestic crude and rely less on imports; 8 of 10 said they were concerned about US energy self-sufficiency. However, most respondents oppose the construction of a refinery or other traditional energy plant in their city or town.

The survey report stated that, “84% of respondents opposed the construction of a refinery in their hometown, 83% opposed the construction or recommissioning of a nuclear power plant, and three out of four opposed the construction of a LNG facility in their city or town.”

As has been stated often in this magazine, the last grassroots refinery was built in the US 30 years ago.

“It’s a call for more public education,” according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Kurt Hallead. “It’s the only way for policy-makers to address a situation where everyone wants energy self-sufficiency but no new traditional energy plants.”

Reliance on gasoline

The survey found that the respondents’ first concern was the quality of life for the next generation. Interestingly, their concern about gasoline prices was greater than that of air quality and climate change.

Concern over gasoline prices was due to the fact that “three quarters of respondents said it would be impossible to live their life as it is today without owning a car.” According to the survey, 78% said they were concerned about gasoline prices and if they could afford to drive; however, 67% said, “Americans are too concerned with how energy prices affect their wallets and are losing sight of protecting the environment.”

The annual survey, compared with results from last year’s survey, found that the respondents are more concerned about global warming and climate change. Of those polled, “68% said they were in favor of carbon dioxide regulations, even if it meant higher energy costs, and 67% said they would also pay more for cleaner fuels than pay less for fuels that pollute.”

Regarding alternative energy sources, 87% said the US government should enact subsidies and incentives to encourage and reinforce their development. And although most were opposed to traditional energy plants, 6 in 10 said they would sanction a solar plant in their hometown, and 57% would endorse the construction of wind turbines.

Other highlights

Nearly three quarters (74%) of the respondents said that in the 2008 presidential election they would consider a candidate’s position on energy issues when voting. This is an increase from 49% who said this in 2004.

The majority of respondents (57%) felt that the US would not “find a solution to its energy problems in your lifetime.” This feeling was common even in the survey’s respondents that were 18-24 years old-48% of them felt that no solution would be found in their lifetime.

Three-quarters of the respondents said companies adopting environmentally friendly and energy-efficient standards should receive a reduction in corporate taxes.

When polled, one third of SUV drivers said publicity about energy consumption and climate change had led them to reconsider the benefits of owning an SUV. Fully 58% of the SUV owners said they would try to buy a hybrid as their next car purchase; this number was nearly 70% for all respondents.

Of course, actions speak louder than words.