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Americans acknowledge need for more energy, but underestimate role of oil, natural gas, survey shows

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2009 – A new survey finds that while Americans now recognize the United States will need more energy in the coming years, they continue to underestimate the amount of oil and natural gas that government experts predict will be needed to meet that demand. Conversely, respondents overestimate the role that renewable energy sources will play in meeting future demand, the amount of oil the U.S. imports from the Middle East, and oil and natural gas industry earnings.

The third annual “Energy IQ” survey, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute (API) by Harris Interactive®, comes as a new administration and Congress are pursuing energy and climate policies that will determine America’s economic competitiveness for years to come.

“Americans understand fundamentally that we need more energy to grow our economy but they continue to undervalue oil and natural gas in meeting expected demand,” said Jack Gerard, API’s president and CEO said. “We stand ready to work with the White House and Congress on policies that encourage the development of America’s vast resources, which would strengthen our nation’s energy security, create new jobs and increase government revenues by trillions of dollars.”

“The American public wants to believe there is a silver bullet answer to our energy challenges despite what government experts predict,” said Jim Hoskins, senior vice president for Harris Interactive. “Americans have become more aware of how current policies limit increased domestic production but they also continue to subscribe to common, yet critical, misperceptions regarding how the industry operates and the energy we’ll need to meet growing demand.”

Comparing the results to last year’s survey, respondents showed a continued misunderstanding on key issues such as the significance of North American oil and natural gas resources, the number of people employed by the oil and natural gas industry in the U.S., and the amount of taxes the industry pays every year.

API commissioned the online research by Harris Interactive of 1,298 U.S. adults between April 30 and May 8, 2009. Results were compared to the previous two years’ responses. Among the survey’s key findings:

More Americans understand that U.S. energy demand will increase during the next 20 years, but they underestimate the vital role that fossil fuels will play in meeting demand.
  • While the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that U.S. energy demand will increase 9 percent during the next 20 years, only 5 percent of respondents chose the correct answer. The majority overestimated this number, believing that U.S. demand would increase 16 to 21 percent.
  • When asked what percent of global energy demand will be met by fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal, according to government projections, only 10 percent of respondents answered correctly that fossil fuels will meet 85 percent of energy demand. This is the second consecutive year this number has dropped even though the EIA figure for future U.S. reliance on fossil fuels has risen by five percent since 2008.
  • Similarly, while the EIA projects that more than 55 percent of U.S. energy demand in 2030 will be met by oil and natural gas, only 16 percent of respondents chose this answer.
Those surveyed overestimate the amount of oil and natural gas supplied to the U.S. by the Persian Gulf countries and underestimate the amount that is supplied from North America.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 12 percent of the oil consumed last year in the U.S. came from the Persian Gulf countries. Only 7 percent of respondents chose correctly, while more than 40 percent of respondents believed that over 30 percent of our oil supply came from the Persian Gulf.
  • Fifty-three percent of respondents believed that Saudi Arabia was the largest U.S. supplier of imported crude oil. In fact, according to the DOE, Canada is the largest supplier of imported crude oil.
  • Only 5 percent of respondents knew that more than 73 percent of oil and natural gas consumed in the U.S. was produced in North America. This is down 3 percent from last year’s survey. A surprising 42 percent were under the misconception that the answer was less than 35 percent.

People underestimate the contributions the industry makes to the U.S. economy through jobs and taxes, and overestimate the industry’s profits.
  • Only 15 percent of respondents knew that six million Americans are employed directly or indirectly by the oil and natural gas industry.
  • Only 9 percent of respondents knew that oil companies pay more than 40 percent in income taxes as a share of their income. The majority thought that it was less than 30 percent, with one-third of all respondents under the misconception that companies pay less than 15 percent in income taxes.
  • Similarly, when asked how much the oil and natural gas industry paid in taxes over the past three years, a full one quarter of respondents believed that the U.S. oil and natural gas industry contributed less than $100 billion. 43 percent of respondents chose “not sure” and only 10 percent answered correctly — $242 billion, according to the EIA.
  • More than 40 percent of respondents believed that the oil and natural gas industry earned more than 20 cents per every dollar of sales. In fact the industry earns just below 6 cents on every dollar.

Updated: June 29, 2009 

For complete text of the survey and more information – including survey methodology – please go to www.energytomorrow.org/energyiq or see the documents below:

  • Media