The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Survey Says, Misinformation on Energy, Keystone XL

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted February 7, 2012

Politico reports (subscription required) this week on a new poll that shows a political edge for the president on energy and jobs – based on a memo from pollster/strategist Geoffrey Garin and Hart Research Associates colleague Allan Rivlin. Key points:

  • On addressing domestic energy, respondents trust President Obama over congressional Republicans 48 percent to 38 percent
  • On the Keystone XL pipeline, of respondents who said they hadn’t heard the arguments, 43 percent said the president was wrong to reject the pipeline while 32 percent agreed with him. Among independents, the split was 39 percent disagreeing with the president, 34 percent supporting.
  • Of respondents who said they had heard both sides of the pipeline argument, the president was supported by 47 percent, opposed by 36 percent.

Most interesting is the opinion shift represented by points two and three above. Politico:

The best way to get voters to back Obama’s decision: “Involve the risk of a toxic oil spill over an aquifer that provides fresh water and water for farming to one-third of the United States — a concern that is compounded by questions about TransCanada’s safety record and the number of spills that have occurred in the first year of the Keystone One pipeline,” according to the memo.

Politico again:

Garin and Rivlin also argue that there is a “sharp decline in the salience of the proponents’ case” for the pipeline regarding how it impacts U.S. energy security “as voters learn the likelihood of the refined oil being shipped off for export.”


The memo also argues there is “significant mistrust of both the oil industry and the Republicans in Congress,” and their arguments for the pipeline are undermined when voters are informed that the claims of jobs tied to the project “are grossly exaggerated.”

This is not to suggest that Garin conducted a push poll, in which respondents were nudged toward a particular outcome with information, but to say that it’s clear how some are trying to frame the debate over energy and the president’s policies with misinformation. So let’s look at the facts:

Spills – The United States has thousands of miles of pipelines delivering crude oil and refined products. The spill rate has fallen nearly 60 percent since 2001 to less than one per 1,000 miles of pipeline. Pipelines already cross the Ogallala aquifer, a point of concern in the Keystone XL debate that Nebraska research hydrogeologist Jim Goeke discusses in detail here.

TransCanada’s safety record – Keystone XL builder TransCanada currently operates the Keystone pipeline that passes through Nebraska (and the Ogallala aquifer). The company says the pipeline itself hasn’t suffered any leaks. A dozen recorded spills have come from pumping stations and 10 of the 12 measured between 5 and 10 gallons, the company says. The Keystone XL would feature state-of-the-art materials and computerized monitoring that would let the company locate and isolate potential problems within minutes.

Exports – We’ve written about this here and here. The exports argument, whether lobbed by a sitting congressman or activists, shows how little some know about U.S. refining, the global market and balance of trade. Basically, more than 90 percent of the on-road transportation fuel refined in the United States is for use in the United States. The remaining less than 10 percent consists primarily of heavier products that aren’t in high demand here. As for markets and trade, the export of refined U.S. petroleum products helps preserve well-paying U.S. refining jobs and improves the country’s trade balance as we buy crude and then sell higher-value refined products.

Jobs – TransCanada details the 20,000 U.S. jobs the Keystone XL would create during its construction phase, here. The Canadian Energy Research Institute says up to 500,000 U.S. jobs could be created by 2035 through full development of Canada’s oil sands, which includes the Keystone XL’s construction. Working Americans know the value of these jobs. Check this video of Laborers’ International Union of North America General President Terry O’Sullivan talking about the job potential of the Keystone XL.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.