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Study Gauges American Attitudes Toward Natural Gas Exportation

A study published in the September 2018 edition of the journal Energy Policy examined public opinion of natural gas exports in the United States. Authors Johnathan J. Pierce, Hilary Boudet, Chad Zanocco, and Megan Hillyard used polls to ask a variety of questions regarding natural gas exportation. The study found that nearly a majority of respondents supported exporting natural gas. When asked whether the respondent supported or opposed exporting natural gas from the United States, 48.9 percent either strongly or somewhat supported, while 34.3 percent strongly or somewhat strongly opposed.

The researchers accessed a sample of 1,042 people from across the United States using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or MTurk, online polling service. Though some online polling services are not considered credible by the academic community, the MTurk service is an exception, and has been used previously in reputable academic research. General demographic information was collected, such as age, race, gender, and education level of participants. Additionally, the location in which each respondent resides was gathered, but was divided into four regions of northeast, midwest, south, and west, determined by the respondent themselves. 

Analysis of the reasons why respondents support exporting natural gas was conducted. Those in support named general ideas of energy, trade, and the economy as their reasoning. Of those in the minority, their rationale for opposition related to concern for the environment and impacts of fracking.

However, while natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing may be a salient idea for many, familiarity with exportation is low. When asked about their familiarity with natural gas exportation 83.6 percent of respondents had either never heard or heard little of the topic, compared to only 3.7 percent who had a moderate or great deal of familiarity. These results may seem surprising given the influx in attention natural gas has seen since the boom began in the late 2010s. However, the United States has only as recently as 2016 become a net exporter of energy, with just two natural gas export terminals currently in operation in the states.

The Trump administration has been adamant in its pursuit of exporting natural gas, and moving terminals out of the Gulf of Mexico, where both import and export terminals are historically located. Unfortunately, the study did not find any significant correlation between where respondents live and their opinions on natural gas exports. There is opportunity for future research in public opinion to expand their criteria for a respondent’s geographic location beyond four large regions. Data gauging opinion in individual states or counties within states could be helpful in understanding contextual implications into approval or denial for natural gas related topics.

The study illuminates the need for more information on the various subtopics associated with natural gas. Since the shale boom, the majority of focus has centered on natural gas as an energy source, extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing, and transportation of natural gas via pipelines. As the industry expands, and new concepts such as exportation of natural gas are developed, citizens will need to be sufficiently informed on larger topics like international trade and the exportation process in order to make informed choices in the future.

Contributed by Tim Yeung

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