​Survey finds fewer Canadians hold positive views of pipelines

Image: Kinder Morgan

Canadians’ feelings about the construction of new pipelines to deliver Canadian energy to new markets have shifted over the past three years, according to a new survey by Abacus Data.

While negative feelings are unchanged at 21 per cent, positive feelings have dropped to 44 per cent from 58 per cent in 2014 while more people (36 per cent), up from 20 per cent three years ago, take a neutral stance, the survey found.

“Worth noting is that the public debate, or at least the news coverage of it, may tend to leave the impression that most people have very strong views,” said the polling firm. “However, our results show that strong positive views tend to be more isolated to Albertans and Conservative voters, and strong negative views are less than 15 per cent even in B.C. and Quebec.”

Discomfort with the idea of new pipelines is higher than average in British Columbia and Quebec (29 per cent in both provinces) while 67 per cent of Albertans have positive feelings, it found.

Differences by generation and partisanship are also noticeable when it comes to pipeline attitudes, said Abacus, with younger people less positive and more neutral compared to older people. Conservatives (69 per cent) are much more positively disposed towards new pipelines, compared to Liberals (45 per cent) and New Democrats (25 per cent).

Anxiety about pipelines is a function of two types of concern: for 27 per cent it is a concern about the risk of spills, but for more people (37 per cent) it has to do with a desire to see a shift away from fossil fuels, said Abacus. In B.C. and Quebec, concerns about spills are higher than average, while among younger people, hesitation is more likely tied to a desire to see a shift away from fossil fuels, it noted.

Those opposed to the Trans Mountain and Keystone XL pipeline projects tend to be much more likely to feel there is a high risk of spills (46 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively) while very few supporters feel the same way (13 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, Abacus found.

When asked to choose between two alternatives: building new pipelines while pursuing efforts to reduce emissions, or building no new pipelines to avoid contributing to climate change, the large majority continues to support a transition strategy, as was the case in 2016.

“Worth noting is that 64 per cent of those surveyed in B.C. and 51 per cent of NDP voters believe that the country should continue to add pipeline capacity while investing in efforts to reduce emissions,” said Abacus. “Quebecers are evenly split on this question.”

Opinion on Kinder Morgan Canada Limited’s Trans Mountain pipeline has not really changed since its 2016 poll, the firm said, with 31 per cent in support and 27 prepared to support the project under certain circumstances. Only 22 per cent are opposed.

“Opinion in B.C. is different from what we find in other parts of the country, but perhaps not to the extent that might be imagined,” the pollsters noted. In the province, 32 per cent are opposed to Trans Mountain while 27 per cent support it and another 29 per cent say they can support the project under certain circumstances. The remaining 12 per cent are unsure.

Opposition to the project is strongest among NDP voters, among whom 39 per cent oppose the project.

In contrast, 75 per cent of Albertans support Trans Mountain while 11 per cent are opposed (two per cent strongly). The other 14 per cent are unsure.

In the case of Keystone XL, 33 per cent of Canadians overall support the project and 25 per cent are opposed while 25 per cent say they can support the project under certain conditions. In addition, 18 per cent are unsure how they feel about it.

Surrounding attitudes on pipelines

Most Canadians (70 per cent) believe that “pipelines play an essential role in delivering the energy we all use every day” and an essential role in the economy of Canada (68 per cent). People are far more likely to agree (63 per cent) than disagree (22 per cent) that pipelines deliver a huge amount of energy across Canada with few incidents, according to the Abacus survey.

The majority also believes that Canadian pipeline companies put a lot of effort into ensuring safe operation and that pipelines are subject to rigorous oversight by government. “Confidence in the oversight by the government has increased seven points since our last measurement in 2015,” the polling firm noted.

Attitudes on oil

Canadians are becoming more convinced that oil will experience a decline in demand in the next few decades, said Abacus. While 31 per cent believe demand for oil will be rising in the next 10 years, 32 per cent believe demand will be falling. “This represents a striking 15-point increase in the number who believe demand will be falling, compared to our result in April of this year,” it said.

A majority (57 per cent) now believe that 30 years from now demand for oil will be falling, compared to only 22 per cent who think it will still be increasing—an 18-point increase in the belief that demand will be falling.

In terms of what people would prefer to see happen to demand for oil, a majority (55 per cent) would prefer to see demand in decline in 10 years (up from 44 per cent in April) while fully two-thirds (65 per cent) would like to see demand declining in 30 years (up from 55 per cent in April).

In Alberta, more people would like to see demand for oil declining (38 per cent) in 10 years as would like to see it increasing (28 per cent), the survey found. Looking out 30 years, 48 per cent would prefer to see oil demand in decline, compared to 20 per cent who would like to see it increasing.

“While NDP and Liberal voters are more inclined to want to see a decline in demand for oil, a striking 44 per cent of Conservative voters would like to see oil in decline in 10 years, and 54 per cent feel that way on a 30 year out basis,” said Abacus.

When asked what they would like to see in terms of the energy mix for Canada 20 or 30 years from now, the results show a strong desire for Canada embrace more renewable sources of energy, with solar and wind energy at the top of the wish list, the survey found. The desire to see more use of solar and wind energy is widespread in every region, across all age groups, and among supporters of all three major political parties.

Majorities would also like to see increased use of wave and tidal and hydroelectricity.

When it comes to fossil fuels, natural gas is much more positively regarded than oil: 44 per cent say they would like to see more use of natural gas compared to 15 per cent for oil.

Surrounding attitudes on oil

“Attitudes about oil are increasingly being shaped by concerns about climate change and also a sense that energy innovation is happening quickly and that Canada cannot afford to fall behind this trend because of a reliance on oil,” said Abacus.

A majority (59 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “recently I’ve grown more worried about climate change and it is changing my view of how long we should use oil.” Of those surveyed, 48 per cent of Albertans were in agreement and 35 per cent of Conservative voters.

Abacus also found that 75 per cent of those surveyed don’t want to see Canada fall behind in the race to innovate with new forms of energy “because of a reliance on oil.” That sentiment was shared by 70 per cent of those in Alberta and 69 per cent of Conservative voters overall.

“Maybe the strongest signal of all, for governments, is the widespread feeling, including in Alberta, that Canada should not stand apart from the race to innovate with cleaner forms of energy, due to a reliance on oil,” Bruce Anderson, Abacus chair, said in a news release. “Canadians sense both an environmental and moral urgency and an economic wave that they want to be part of as well.”

Energy, pipeline and climate issues have been among the most highly charged political debates in Canada for several years, he noted. “What we are seeing in our numbers now is an evolution of opinion: concerns about climate change have deepened, and belief that the world is going to transition away from oil has grown.”

Canadians remain broadly inclined to believe that the right strategy for the country is to continue to harness the country’s petroleum resources and to build pipeline capacity if needed, even while ramping up investments and policies that will see the country shift towards more reliance on renewable forms of energy, according to Anderson.