Oil shale survey: Strong local support
GOLDEN — Nearly 60 percent of Utahns support a proposed project to mine rock, heat it and collect oil, according to a public opinion study released Tuesday.
Enefit American Oil surveyed residents from around the state as well as people who live in the Uintah Basin and across the border in northwest Colorado in September and October.
The results were discussed at the Colorado School of Mines Oil Shale Symposium. Enefit American Oil is one of several companies pursuing development of oil shale in the Uintah Basin, which contains the Utah portion of the Green River Formation’s oil shales. The heaviest concentrations of those shales lie east of the border in Colorado.
Support for Enefit’s project about 45 miles south of Vernal, Utah, was well above that of the rest of the state, 84 percent to 60 percent overall. In Colorado, 86 percent of respondents supported the Enefit project.
“It was very, very encouraging to see those kinds of results,” said Rikki Hrenko-Browning, CEO of Enefit American Oil.
Fifteen percent of Utahns overall opposed the development, as did 7 percent of the Colorado respondents. Three percent of Uintah Basin opponents said they opposed it.
In addition to supporting the proposal, 49 percent of Utahns said they thought it could be done in an environmentally sensitive manner. More than half of Uintah Basin residents, 56 percent, said that, as did 58 percent of the Colorado respondents.
Respondents generally expected that Enefit’s project could be built and operated in a way that benefits the local and regional area. Of Utahns statewide, 46 percent said they thought that the project “definitely” would be a boon and 41 percent said they believed it would probably pay off.
More than two-thirds of Uintah Basin and Colorado respondents, 67 percent in both cases, said the project would be a definite economic benefit.
Most Utah respondents, 71 percent, said they were familiar with the term “oil shale,” as did 93 percent of Uintah Basin respondents and 95 percent of those in Colorado. Some respondents, however, voiced confusion between oil shale and “shale oil,” a term given to the crude oil released by hydraulically fracturing deep shales and tight sands.
Among the findings were that women were more likely than men to say energy production is very important, 52 percent to 40 percent of men. A larger portion of women, about 33 percent, were more likely to say they were unsure about developing oil shale. About 19 percent of men voiced similar doubts.
“We need to reach out to women, they’re seeing the project a little bit differently than men,” said Hrenko-Browning.
Lighthouse Research and Development conducted the study, which has a 4 percent margin of error.