New Poll: Albertans Strongly Support Efforts to Regulate Tar Sands Development

Amidst the international debate over tar sands development is a perception that the public in the province of Alberta is strongly in favor of expanding this carbon-intensive oil and supportive of weak climate and environmental policies to enable that growth. But a poll just released by Ekos Research and commissioned by the Canadian think-tank, the Pembina Institute, has demonstrated just the opposite. In fact, according to the poll, 56 percent of Albertans think the province is responsible for reducing its carbon emissions to address climate change, while only 26% disagree. A majority (53%) support stronger climate change policies, even if that means higher production costs for oil companies. In fact, a plurality (48%) of Albertans think that the tar sands industry should stay at current levels or be reduced - a stark difference from a sector that has plans to triple in the coming decades. Only a minority thinks tar sands should be slightly larger (25%) or much larger (18%). It seems the Alberta Premier's recent confession that the province was the "embarrassing cousin that no one wants to talk about" is a view that is also held by much of the Alberta public. As the newly elected government in Alberta considers what new climate policies to adopt, it should pay close attention to its public who is clearly expecting to improve its image in a meaningful way.

The poll was released as the province of Alberta continues to evaluate possible new climate policies under a newly elected government. NRDC has just submitted detailed recommendations to the Government of Alberta outlining the steps we recommend be taken to assure strong climate leadership. Please read my colleague Anthony Swift's blog about these recommendations. The conventional wisdom that most Albertans would desire less regulation on its oil producing sector in order to drive economic growth was shattered by the poll. It is important to understand that the poll comes at a time when Albertans face major challenges to the province's finances as its government budgets are tied heavily to the oil and gas sector.

"This has been a year in which Albertans defy stereotypes, with this poll being one more example. There is a large constituency in Alberta that wants to see the province be an environmental leader on issues like climate change and the development of the oilsands."
-- Frank Graves, President, EKOS Research Associates

Key findings from the poll:

  • Most Albertans (56%) think the province is responsible for reducing its carbon emissions to address climate change, while only 26% disagree.
  • A majority (53%) support stronger climate change policies, even if that means higher production costs for oilsands companies.
  • Half of Albertans (50%) would support an economy-wide carbon tax, with 38% opposed.
  • Support for a carbon tax is greater when the revenue is directed to specific sources, such as infrastructure and community projects that reduce carbon emissions (72%) or protecting low-income households from increased energy prices (60%).
  • Most Albertans (66%) think the government should prioritize diversifying the province's economy over making the oil and gas industry more competitive (29%).
  • A large majority of Albertans (70%) want stricter enforcement of the existing environmental rules and safeguards in the oilsands.
  • Roughly half of that group (36%) want the government to be "much more" strict. 60% think the previous Progressive Conservative government was not strict enough when enforcing environmental rules in the oilsands.
  • Substantial majorities of Albertans favour stronger environmental regulations tied to the oilsands.
    • 95% support a one-for-one approach to wetlands mitigation offsets and conservation.
    • 67% support protecting more of the boreal forest as parkland.
    • A majority of Albertans (70%) support investing in renewables to reduce coal use, and want the province to increase support for clean energy and clean technology (86%).
  • A plurality (48%) of Albertans think tar sands production should stay at current levels or be reduced. A minority think the tar sands should be slightly larger (25%) or much larger (18%).
"It's encouraging to see such strong support among Albertans for action on climate change. This poll shows that the public is open to many of the solutions being considered, such as an economy-wide price on carbon pollution, or phasing out coal power and replacing it with renewables."
-- Simon Dyer, Alberta Regional Director, Pembina Institute

Poll details:

A total of 1,855 residents of Alberta aged 18 or older were surveyed from August 28 through September 10 by EKOS Research Associates. They were surveyed using a combination of live-caller telephone interviews -- including both landlines and cell phones -- and an online probability panel.

The margin of error for the full sample is ±2.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The data have been statistically weighted by age, gender, region and educational attainment to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Alberta according to 2011 Census data.

About the Authors

Danielle Droitsch

Director, Dirty Energy, Lands Division, Nature Program

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