Energy sources can easily be divided into teams. You have your up-and-coming alternative sources: Wind, solar, etc. You also have your old and dirty veterans: Oil and gas. Then there is natural gas. People have a hard time determining which team natural gas is on.
When asked in a straightforward manner, people support the increased development of natural gas resources. Gallup asked whether more emphasis, about the same emphasis, or less emphasis should be placed on producing natural gas domestically. Sixty-five percent said more emphasis should be given. Ten percent said less emphasis and 24% said the same amount.
When natural gas sits on team fossil fuels, it doesn’t receive as much praise. In February, Pew asked whether the more important priority was developing alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydrogen technology, or expanding exploration and production of oil, coal, and natural gas. Fifty-four percent preferred the new players, while 34% wanted to stick with the old fossils.
But things look a little rosier for natural gas when grouped with other “low carbon” sources. Duke University asked whether electric utilities should produce a large amount of energy from low carbon sources such as wind, solar, natural gas, and nuclear power. A majority of 63% supported that kind of policy. Fourteen percent opposed and 23% did not have an opinion.
More natural gas fields are being opened up due to hydraulic fracturing technology, which receives a mixed response from the public. A plurality of 48% favors the increased use of fracking according to a March 2013 Pew poll. Thirty-eight percent are opposed. Most questions on fracking show a high percentage who are uncertain about it. But on the whole, most are somewhat supportive of the drilling method.
Natural gas should have an easier time marketing itself. It has “natural” right in its name, after all. But pollsters hold a sizable influence on public perceptions when they decide how natural gas is presented – by itself, as something cleaner, as something old, as something drilled from a controversial technology. At one level, Gallup’s question, where opinions on natural gas are solicited independent of any other energy source or extraction method, is itself revealing. On the other hand, discussions of energy policy rarely take place in a vacuum. Advocates or detractors of natural gas shouldn’t dismiss how different descriptions and associations determine opinions. But if natural gas can overcome its association with fossil fuels, Americans seem ready to embrace natural gas an energy source for the future.