A clear majority of Americans now oppose hydraulic fracturing, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. And while most voters still support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, support is slipping there as well.
Hydraulic fracturing — colloquially known as “fracking” — is a process for extracting oil or natural gas from shale formations, in which a mix of water and various chemicals is pumped under intense pressure into the well after it’s been drilled. This fractures the rock, allowing the oil or gas to flow to the surface. Development of the process over the last decade or so has lead to a boom in North American fossil fuel production, but it’s also come along with a host of problems — studies suggest at least ten percent of the chemicals used in the fracturing fluid are toxic, posing a threat to drinking water; people who live near fracking wells are more likely to become sick thanks to the pollution; methane leaks from the industry exacerbate global warming; and the process may even trigger earthquakes.
According to Pew, support for fracking stood at 48 percent in March of 2013, versus 38 percent opposition. But as of November 2014, Americans have flipped their position: 41 percent now favor the process while 47 percent oppose it. And while support fell across all demographic groups, the biggest drops — all 10 percentage points or more — occurred among women, voters under age 49, those with some college education, Midwesterners, and independent voters. Women already opposed the fossil fuel extraction process by one percentage point in March of 2013, but for every other one of those groups, the change flipped them from decisive approval to decisive opposition.
At the same time, the partisanship around fracking remains strong: Republicans support it by 62 percent, while Democrats oppose it by 59 percent.
Pew also inquired into Americans support for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from Canada’s tar sands south to the Gulf of Mexico for transport. While the public still favors the project by 59 percent to 31 percent, those positive numbers have slipped significantly, from 66 percent favoring the pipeline back in March 2013. The drop was especially dramatic for Independent voters, among whom support fell from 70 percent to 58 percent over that time period. Support among Democratic voters dropped nearly as much, from 54 percent to 43 percent. In fact, slightly more Democrats now reject the pipeline than favor it.
Meanwhile, the partisan gap over the issue increased slightly, as Republican support ticked up from 82 percent to 83 percent.
Opponents of the pipeline point out that the crude oil from the tar sands is unusually dirty and, if burned, would massively contribute to global warming. It would also pose a threat of spills and damage to wildlife. Supporters of the project hold it up as a jobs booster, though the amount of permanent jobs the pipeline would create is a tiny blip in comparison to the country’s needs.
Because it crosses international boundaries, the State Department must ultimately decide wether to give the pipeline a green light or not. The controversy has left that decision mired in delays, and the State Department itself has been widely criticized for low-balling the problems with the pipeline in it’s assessments.
With their newfound control over both chambers of Congress, Republicans are pushing for a vote to approve construction of Keystone XL as soon as possible. But hints are coming from the White House that President Obama would veto such a move.