One-Sided Keystone XL Poll Tells the Story Big Oil Wants You To Hear

Cross-posted from the Sierra Club

After a weekend during which tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and demand solutions to the climate crisis, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is touting a one-sided poll they claim shows Americans supporting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

However, a closer look at their poll questions unveils a biased survey which failed to equip respondents with the basic facts of the project before asking them to form an opinion. Instead, API crafted a poll to ensure they got the types of answers they were looking for by totally ignoring the environmental and economic realities of the toxic pipeline from Canada.

You can see the questionnaire for yourself here (PDF). And you’ll notice that poll respondents are presented with all types of arguments for the pipeline, but not a single argument against Keystone XL. In fact, the survey doesn’t even mention the words “tar sands” at all. Without the proper context, people who had never heard of Keystone XL before could easily associate the pipeline with conventional oil — not the toxic, more carbon-intensive tar sands oil that Keystone XL would transport. Furthermore, there is no mention of the grave risks Keystone XL poses. API’s survey ignores any discussion of possible oil spills, drinking water contamination, or climate-disrupting pollution — just to name a few.

The poll also primes respondents to believe that Keystone XL tar sands oil is destined for the U.S. marketplace — rather than noting that it is effectively an export pipeline that pumps tar sands oil through the U.S. to get to the global marketplace. By failing to mention that much of the tar sands oil coming through Keystone XL will be shipped overseas, the survey allows respondents to assume that this oil is destined for the United States and will improve our energy security.

Here’s the kicker: Polling conducted by Hart Research last year showed that once American voters hear both the pro and con arguments about the Keystone XL pipeline, they support President Obama’s decision to deny the permit for the pipeline by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin. This poll, which surveyed 1,000 voters in the swing states of Colorado, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio, showed that voters were especially worried about the risks to water quality and supplies from tar sands pipeline spills. Moreover, the arguments of API and other Keystone XL supporters were found to be much less powerful once voters learned that much of the tar sands oil will be exported and consumed overseas.

API’s polling instrument is incomplete and one-sided, so it’s difficult to take any meaning from it — though that doubtlessly won’t stop API from declaring it as “proof” Americans want this project. But what this poll is “proof” of is that it’s easy to win a one-sided debate. But Americans deserve to know these critical — and basic — facts about Keystone XL before being asked to form an opinion about it.

— Grace McRae, Sierra Club Polling and Research Strategist

28 Responses to One-Sided Keystone XL Poll Tells the Story Big Oil Wants You To Hear

  1. prokaryotes says:

    There is only 1 real supporter of the Key XLpipeline, his name David Koch.

  2. clays says:

    All your arguments against Keystone are illogical or incorrect.

    1. Tar Sands is dirty.

    Canada is going to develop it’s tar sands weather we buy it from them or not. Killing keystone doesn’t stop those tar sand resources from getting extracted refined and burned. In fact, it makes it dirtier, because if the US doesn’t use it, it will go to China to be refined with next to zero pollution controls.

    2. Spills, drinking water contamination.

    Pipelines are the safest cleanest mode of transporting liquids in existence. The aquifers “threatened” are all ready crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of pipe. A spill from a surface pipe has next to zero chance of contaminating an aquifer hundreds of feet underground. And the alternative is Canada putting it on boats and floating it across the ocean. Much more risky with a higher carbon footprint.

    3. It’s an “export” pipeline and won’t be useful to us.

    Saying Keystone is just an export pipeline and the oil will be shipped overseas, is like saying GM simply exports steel. Oil is a raw material that will be used by the manufacturing industry (refineries) to create a new product(like how GM buys steel and builds cars.)

    This is good for a few reasons. Increasing exports is key to growing a stalled economy. And the US has the cleanest refineries in the world. If global warming and pollution is your issue, then you would want the US, with it’s strict pollution controls, refining as much of the worlds oil as possible.

    Also, number one export in the US right now is refined products (it used to be corn). We do it better, safer and cleaner than anyone else in the world. We shouldn’t hamper that, we should embrace it.

  3. M Tucker says:

    This pipeline that folks are protesting is not about stopping Canada from developing the tar sand. It is not about not refining tar sand oil in the US. It is not about stopping the export of tar sand oil or distillates from it. All of that is happening already. Canada has been developing the tar sand for years. The US has been refining it for years. The US has been exporting the distillates from tar sand oil for years. With the completion of the Seaway pipeline upgrade the US may even start exporting raw tar sand oil. What the Keystone XL expansion is about is importing MORE and exporting MORE. What the protest is about is making a statement. It is about making a start. It is about raising awareness that we must to something about climate disruption. Sure, stopping the expansion will not do anything to limit CO2 emissions but we need to raise awareness so eventually we will get legislation that will.

  4. question says:

    This poll has a crazy breakdown demographically…

    The poll has a rural population of 41%. The national value according to the 2010 Census is 19.3%.

    The poll has a percentage of white (non-hispanic) respondents of 63%. The 2012 value is 63%

    21% of the respondents in this poll had an income greater than $100,000 with 17% refusing to answer. The 2010 census had a median *household* income of $56,000. The poll had an median *individual* income of greater than $60,000.

    Gallup has Republican party id as 27% over the past couple months. This poll has 35%.

    And so on…

    Ask a biased sample and get biased results… sad.

  5. BillD says:

    If we can delay the oil sands pipeline there is a good chance that a large part of the fossil fuel will be left in the ground. Factors that decrease the chance that the carbon will be left in the ground include:

    1. Decreasing cost of natural gas and renewable energy, energy sources that have much less negative effect on local environments and climate change. Oil sands are now much less attractive economically that they were a few years ago even if we don’t consider the costs of climate change.

    2. A carbon tax will weigh heavily against mining the tar sands.

    3. As the economic, social and ecological costs of climate change become higher and more broadly recognized, there will be strong movements in the US, Canada and elsewhere to limit the worse fossil fuels, expecially coal and tar sands, as we transition away from all fossil fuels.

    We are in a race against time. In this race we need to reduce and delay fossil fuel burning and to support paths that lead to much lower CO2 emissions.

  6. Bill Wilson says:

    Stoping KeystoneXL dramatically slows the devastation taking place where the third larges water shed in world is being polluted and leading to cancers 10 times higher for First Nations people downsteam. We now all live downstream. Lakes 50 miles away filling with carcenogens from extraction air pollution. China has just announced a national standard on par with Europe where the Sulfur and manganese has to be reduced and thus per my resources they do not want it. Just another threat and the Tar sands will not be economical once the costs are added to be paid by taxpayers. It simply needs to and will stay in the ground.

    With the 35 plus spill and as Kalamazoo MI coverup shows it simply is impossible to clean up from any moving water source. Leak detection show faulty and inadaquate with holes in pipe where it is made by foreign company being sued for faulty pipe. B.Columbia people and govenment have said no to pipe to their coast. Chilren across Canada hve vowed to use thier bodies to stop pipe. Truks not a way to expand as fast as industry needs to to be worth it and agree if pipe not built it stays in ground. Glut of nat. gas predicted very soon. Pipe not needed.

    Again, China is saying NO. But they are listening to their people and spending 753 billion on alternatives. Where something is built there which would be mandatory for refining the companies are going beyond the standards now as people have taken to the streets over using their skies as open sewer and chemicals being dumped in their water. We have China make many of our products and thus help pollute their air that is unbreathable so the national standard will again rule out KeystoneXL or export by any method. With carbon monoxide hundreds of times more likely to bond with ones hemoglobin than oxygen the people around the world and especially China say they are saturated and demanding better alternatives to the Tar sannds that is toxic, burns more dirty, takes huge amount of gas to extract it and has proven unsafe from start to finish which is in the lungs of children and us all. Simply not needed or wanted.

  7. question says:

    meant to say the poll has a 73% white-non-hispanic breakdown.

  8. PCalith says:

    Saw this earlier. Not surprised in the slightest that the API poll is a joke. Shame it keeps getting touted on news agencies and whatnot.

  9. Chris Winter says:

    Your findings do suggest the population has been selected somehow.

    But the survey results assure us that participants in the telephone survey were chosen by “random digit dial.”

    Maxwell’s Demon must have been working overtime.

  10. question says:

    Well, the random digit dial is already a biased sample because it legally cannot include cell phones. The cell-phone-only population has a known “liberal” bias. Reputable pollsters have ways of partially correcting for this, but I doubt this one did…

  11. Tim Palmer says:

    It is important to call what comes out of the Tar Sands diluted bitumen, or dilbit, because that is what it is!

    It is not “oil”. It is not ” crude oil”.

    It is bitumen disolved in solvents and it behaves very differently from oils, eg:
    -when spilled in water, the solvents volatilize and the bitumen sinks to the bottom. This is why the Kalamazoo River spill is not, and may never be, cleaned up.
    -Dilbit is highly corrosive. This leads to more frequent pipeline failures.
    -Dilbit requires additional refining at the other end of the pipeline, which has additional carbon cost.

    Please, call diluted bitumen dilbit. Not only is this correct, it also is a great opening for a teachable moment!

  12. Ken Barrows says:

    Of course, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations would never release a one-sided poll to support their point of view.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It is poor quality, or simply unethical, surveys like this that give all social scientists and statisticians a bad name, ME

  14. Superman1 says:

    We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over, and if we eliminate 10% by treaty, it’s essentially irrelevant. We have enough global carbon sources to destroy the climate many times over, and if we block Keystone, we will still have more than enough to destroy the climate many times over. For real security in both cases, almost complete disarmament is required. Anything less is wishful thinking.

  15. Superman1 says:

    We’ve been fighting the war on drugs for forty years. As long as there are addicts, there are pushers to supply them. But, let’s focus on the pushers, rather than look in the mirror at the real problem.

  16. Brooks Bridges says:

    Your willful ignorance of the coming climate catastrophes even if we develop not one new source of fossil fuels makes everything you say irrelevant.

  17. prokaryotes says:

    Wow, great point and metaphor!

  18. BobbyL says:

    The subject of the third question, which refers to additional proposals to bring in tar sands oil to the US, deserves more publicity. The Canadian company Enbridge has proposals that would create more capacity than Keystone if they were all approved. Things seem to be moving to get tar sands oil to Portland, Maine. See

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Joke poll-joke MSM. Bad jokes.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There are (by direct inference) liars, bad liars, and statisticians.

  22. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Since posting that, I have realized it could be misunderstood. To clarify: most social scientists and statisticians do careful and unbiased work. Surveys like the API one can cast doubt on the whole genre in the minds of some people which is unwarranted and not fair to the vast majority of us, ME

  23. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Superman1, are you now saying there is a modicum of hope? A sliver of a chance? A delta for an epsilon? Underwear made of lead with which to forestall Kryptonite’s most calamitous consequences?

  24. GM says:

    Touché, Merrelyn.

  25. Superman1 says:

    Given the uncertainties in this game, there’s always a glimmer of hope. But, any glimmer of hope also requires substantive action sooner rather than later. On the con side, in the last year, the CO2 emissions and concentrations have increased as usual, when at least one should have started coming down. One the pro side, we had a rally last week. So, the only metric that counts went negative, as it has for decades. I see no credible plan to turn that around; only rallies and platitudes.

  26. Superman1 says:

    When will we take it?

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Perhaps we already have, and just cannot yet see it. Or perhaps not.

  28. Kristen says:

    I found the most interesting thing at the end of the survey:
    Which of the following best describes where you live?
    Total – Base 1,001
    Urban 16%
    Suburban 40%
    Rural 41%

    BUT According to the US Census, over 80% of Americans live in Urban areas. Some people in these areas may consider themselves Suburban, but still – it seems they avoided calling city dwellers who make up the majority of the population!