A new survey conducted by the Western Energy Alliance indicates that there have been some huge changes in public opinion, changes that pose a unique opportunity for the developers of natural resources to persuade voters and to impact the election.
The survey of 1000 "high performing" voters in such western "energy states" as Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota, indicates that President Barack Obama "has problems in the West," said Tim Wigley, the newly-named President of Western Energy Alliance, an organization that represents some 400 members involved in the oil and natural gas industry.
"More than any previous election, energy issues are and will continue to play a major role in the 2012 election," said Wigley.
Wigley predicted that as the general election nears, great attention will be focused on states like Montana. They do not have a ton of electoral votes, but they have enough to make a difference," said Wigley, in speaking at one of the breakout sessions of the Montana Energy 2012 conference in Billings, last week.
Wigley, a veteran advocate of natural resource development, said never before has he seen polls where people are putting jobs and the economy as higher concerns than wildlife preservation. It seems, said Wigley, "that protecting species is a good idea only until you start having to pay for it."
In the western group of states, Obama has a 42 percent approval rating, compared to 52 percent nationally.
When it came to listing what they believed to be the most important issues of the day, the environment came in with only three percent of the respondents considering it a concern. But, then that is not surprising to Wigley, who said that the environment, as a concern to voters, "has never cracked 10 percent." The biggest concerns in the survey were jobs and the economy, 35 percent; and government spending, 28 percent.
The numbers on the President's approval rating are largely driven by his rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, according to Wigley, pointing out that 82 percent of the respondents had heard of the issue, with 69 percent favoring its development, 55 percent "strongly" approving, and 23 percent opposing it.
On Obama's energy policy the respondents were 54 percent disapproving, while 37 percent approved. Comments from the respondents lamented that there is "no leadership, no plan, and only one focus," reported Wigley, who said that the Alliance will post the results on-line sometime this month.
The survey showed, however, that people do generally support alternative energy proposals, with 55 percent approval rating.
48 percent of the respondents had a favorable view of the oil and gas industry, while 69 percent had a favorable view of natural gas.
"The environmental community has done a good job of making 'oil' a dirty word," said Wigley.
But, still, 72 percent of the respondents support the development of natural resources on public lands, with 56 percent "strongly" in support.
"The President says we can't solve the problems by 'drill, drill, drill,'" said Wigley, "but he is great at taking credit for the increase in production, but you and I know, that's only happening on private land."
Other responses in the survey reflected that 37 percent say there are far too many regulations while 25 percent said there are too few, and 28 percent said they are just right. But, 66 percent agreed that there should be a moratorium on regulations.
There is a "super high level of awareness about fracing," said Wigley, largely due to the adverse claims of the environmental groups. Of the respondents, 38 percent said they are very concerned about fracing, 30 percent are somewhat concerned and 30 percent have no concern.
"Fracing is to the oil and gas industry, what clear-cutting was to the forest and timber industry," said Wigley.
Of the respondents, 28 percent said they support a ban on fracing, 58 percent would oppose and 38 percent would "strongly" oppose.
Following a discussion about how the media reports on such issues, Wigley said the challenge to the productive sector of the country in regard to politicians is "to convince them, 'you are going to get beat up, but you aren't going to get beat.'"
"Politicians care about the politics of policy, not the policy." They will not step out in support of a policy unless they have a broad comfort range of getting re-elected. "You have no idea how many are terrified of having to explain their positions on environmental issues."
Publically-traded companies, are much the same. "They are fearful of the battle," said Wigley, "They are afraid of controversy They run from it."
The western states have "a witches brew of pissed-off people" over a wide range of issues, from energy development to the creation of national monument and de facto wilderness.
He predicted even more Presidential decrees creating national monuments under the Antiquities Act, and other vindictive political actions, during a lame-duck session, if the Democrats lose in the next election. "We have to be ready," said Wigley.
The Big Sky Business Journal
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