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Published March 16, 2020
Wyoming residents support natural gas and oil production at high levels, with renewable energy and coal production receiving lesser but still relatively strong support, initial results of a new survey show.
Some 82.7 percent of Wyomingites support natural gas production, and oil production is backed by 70.9 percent of the state’s residents, according to the survey conducted jointly by the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources and Ruckelshaus Institute. Meanwhile, the survey found 68.6 percent support solar energy, 65.5 percent back wind development and 63 percent favor mining Wyoming coal to produce energy.
“The results seem to indicate that people in Wyoming want all the tools in the toolbox to be considered,” says Jessica Western, a senior research scientist with the Ruckelshaus Institute, part of UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. “The results also indicate that Wyomingites are informed and knowledgeable of the trade-offs involved with each form of energy.”
The survey was sent to 3,100 randomly sampled addresses in Wyoming in fall 2019 and winter 2020, with 522 responses. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. These results are the first in a two-phased social science study of values and beliefs regarding the future of energy production and development in Wyoming.
The survey asked whether the respondents support or oppose various types of energy technologies and production in Wyoming: natural gas, oil, solar, wind, coal, uranium, nuclear, energy storage, rare earth elements, and carbon capture storage and utilization. Wyoming is the nation’s largest coal and uranium producer and among the largest producers of oil and natural gas.
In addition to receiving the highest level of support, natural gas production also has the smallest percentage of opposition, with just 13.2 percent saying they oppose that form of energy. Those who are neutral or unsure about natural gas make up 4.1 percent of the sample.
Other levels of opposition are 18.1 percent for oil, 23 percent for solar, 18.2 percent for wind, 17.2 percent for coal and 39 percent for uranium. Some 19.8 percent are neutral or unsure about coal and 16.4 percent about wind.
Regarding carbon capture utilization and storage, 37.8 percent of respondents feel it is important to keep fossil fuels competitive; 30 percent say it should be widely adopted to reduce emissions; 12.9 are concerned that the technology is a way to perpetuate fossil fuel production rather than encouraging renewable energy production: 5.7 percent say it is too expensive and should not be invested in; and 11.3 percent say it could have harmful side-effects. A large number, 32.2 percent, are not sure or didn’t know how to answer the question.
“Very often, neutral or ‘not sure’ answers can be interpreted as a knowledge gap that offers an opportunity for a conversation,” Western says. “Where carbon capture utilization and storage, or carbon capture and storage is concerned, one-third of our respondents are unsure, and more information would be helpful.”
The survey also asked why Wyoming residents support or oppose the various forms of energy technology and production. For oil, gas and coal, the vast majority cite those industries’ contributions to state and local government revenues (over 99 percent), along with the relatively high-paying jobs they provide (about 98 percent). Other reasons for support, in order, are because they provide reliable energy and fill the country’s energy needs.
Opposition to coal is based mostly on global climate change impacts (96.1 percent) and on negative impacts on wildlife and the environment (97 percent), with global climate change a secondary reason (94.1 percent).
Regarding wind and solar development, respondents primarily say it fills the nation’s energy needs (92.1 percent), with a secondary position that it generates revenue for state and local governments (85.3 percent). A somewhat smaller percentage say they support the renewable energy sources because the development produces decarbonized energy (78.4 percent) and provides relatively high-paying jobs (76.4 percent).
Respondents’ opposition to wind and solar energy, 89.1 percent, is based on the concern for is inconsistent energy delivery; 86.7 percent believe it has negative impacts on wildlife; 86.5 percent believe it negatively impacts environmental footprints; and 65.4 percent agree it negatively impacts recreational activities.
Queried on the values that are most important to them about Wyoming, respondents primarily cite the state’s scenery and aesthetics, along with wildlife. Next are recreation opportunities, economic opportunities and community values.
More analysis will explore the relationship between demographic data and the values and beliefs measured in the survey. This also will include analysis of the qualitative data received in the survey concerning respondents’ own perspectives regarding the future of energy in Wyoming. The second phase of this study during summer 2020 will consist of interviews with individuals involved in energy production and who are negatively or positively affected by energy production in Wyoming to explore the reasons for these survey results. The full report is expected in early fall 2020.
More detailed initial survey results may be found at www.uwyo.edu/haub/ruckelshaus-institute/publications/index.html.