Study: Texans' views on climate, fracking undergo major shift

A new survey finds that public opinion in Texas is shifting on climate change, fracking, and energy policy. A substation in Beaumont, Texas, that was flooded after Hurricane Harvey is pictured. Entergy Texas Inc./Flickr

Most people living in Texas — the heart of the nation's oil and gas industry and the biggest producer and consumer of energy — believe climate change is real and human-caused and support policies to transition to a less carbon-intensive energy economy, according to a new survey.

Researchers at the University of Houston surveyed 1,000 adults from all 50 states and another 500 adults in Texas and found that the Texas respondents were "nearly in lockstep" with national perceptions about climate change, according to the researchers' findings. Nearly 81% of Texans who participated said they "believe climate change is happening," and 80% of the nationally-representative respondents also supported that statement.

"[The] survey "found an extraordinary and unprecedented shift in public opinion in Texas, wherein Texans revealed preferences increasingly aligned with the rest of the U.S.," the report said.

It also found support among Texans for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry, with 88% of Texas respondents saying they would be willing to pay more for electricity from natural gas that didn't involve flaring or venting of methane in oil fields.

Additionally, 61% of Texans — compared to 64% of the nationally-representative sample of people — said they believe that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, negatively affects the environment. Fifty-three percent of Texans and 56% of the national sample also said the government should encourage "carbon management" practices, or efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel production.

The findings suggest that opinions on climate and energy issues among Texans are shifting.

State residents have historically supported the current fossil fuel-dominated energy economy in greater numbers than the majority of U.S. residents, according to the analysis. The recent change could have to do with the growth of the state's wind and solar energy industries, as well as the steady increases in the number of new, younger residents moving to the area, researchers said.

On the other hand, the survey found relatively minimal opposition to oil and gas pipelines among Texans and Americans at large, despite the recent slew of canceled and delayed pipeline projects nationwide in part due to public opposition. Forty-six percent of Texans said they agree "strongly or somewhat" with efforts to expand pipeline infrastructure, and 29% were neutral on the issue.

"Pipeline projects do not have universal opposition — in fact, there is more support than opposition," said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston and a principal investigator in the survey.

Among Texans and Americans, many respondents said they thought that implementing carbon management policies could boost job opportunities in energy production. That should signal to the oil and gas industry that managing and dealing with emissions could help ensure the continuation of oil and gas, Krishnamoorti said.

According to American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Bethany Aronhalt, the oil and gas industry and its workers are already "tackling the risks of climate change head-on while advancing innovative technologies to reduce emissions."

"We have made dramatic progress over the past decade, leading the world in both emissions reductions and in the safe and responsible development of energy," Aronhalt said in a statement.

As of 2019, Texas was home to the largest number of oil field service and equipment jobs of any state, although employment in the industry nationwide has declined since the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Petroleum Equipment & Services Association. Unlike some other oil- and gas-producing states, Texas has no state-level regulations on flaring, yet the state accounts for over 50% of the nation's emissions from flaring, according to the survey analysis.

But that could change soon, as the Texas Legislature might consider new policies to cut back on flaring when lawmakers convene early next year, the analysis noted.

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