Energy Politics in BC – Fracking, Oil Tankers, Northern Gateway, and the Carbon Tax

UPDATED – May 6 at 5:45pm PT
In an early version of this post, we incorrectly stated that the BC NDP’s position on fracking was to stop fracking until more studies are done.  We removed this reference as that is not the official position of the party.  Note that respondents were not told in the survey which party each statement/position was attributable to.

According to a provincial survey of eligible voters in British Colombia, views on various energy policies in the province are mixed with a plurality supporting the elimination of the province’s carbon tax, a majority supporting the Northern Gateway Pipeline as long as it meets certain environmental and economic conditions, and a majority supporting the development of a heavy-oil refinery in Kitimat.  Despite support for these projects, most British Columbians support the status quo when it comes to oil tanker traffic off the coast of BC; one in four support a complete ban while only 12% support increasing the amount of tanker traffic.

“Although the political rhetoric on the campaign trail seems rather polarized, public opinion in BC is not black and white when it comes to energy development,” said Abacus CEO David Coletto.

“There is wide support for Northern Gateway, with caveats, and majority support building a refinery in Kitimat.  The challenge for those in favour of development is that few British Columbians want to see an expansion of oil tanker traffic off the coast of BC making the transport of oil and gas products very difficult.”


Plurality Support Eliminating the Carbon Tax

Respondents were shown a number of statements about the BC’s carbon tax and where asked which option came closest to their view.  The statements matched the policy positions of the main parties on the province’s carbon tax.  Forty-six percent of respondents said they supported eliminating the province’s carbon tax over the next four years, which is BC Conservative Party’s position.

The NDP position, to keep the tax rate the same but increase the number of activities covered by it, had 22% of respondents supporting it, followed by 19% for the Liberal position of keeping the tax rate at its current rate of $30 per tonne. Only 12% aligned with the Green Party position of an increase to $50 per tonne.

Interestingly, a plurality of supporters of all political parties wanted the carbon tax eliminated.

Only 15% of Green party supporters, said they Green party position aligned closes to them, 32% wanted to keep the carbon tax the same with an increase of activities covered and 41% were in support of the elimination of the carbon tax all together.

The NDP who have the most support in BC, had 42% supporting the Conservative position of the elimination of the carbon tax, and only 23% supporting their own position. Not surprisingly, 61% of Conservatives were in support of their own position of the elimination of the carbon tax.


 Majority Support Northern Gateway Pipeline with Conditions

A slim majority, 52%, of British Colombians support Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline but only if the pipeline proposal includes world-leading environmental standards, First Nations participation, and a fair share of benefits for BC (Christy Clark’s 5 conditions). Only 17% of residents completely supported the pipeline and 32% completely opposed it.

Residents of Vancouver Island were most opposed to the pipeline outright with 42% completely opposed and 42% supportive only if the pipeline proposal includes world-leading environmental standards, First Nations participation, and a fair share of benefits for BC. Central and Northern BC residents were least likely to be completely opposed to the pipeline at 15% and had 31% in complete support of it.

NDP and Green party supporters were split closely between their stance of opposition to the pipeline and the Liberal/Conservative stance to proceed with the pipeline with increased oversight.


Most British Columbians want Status Quo on Oil Tanker Traffic

Only one in four BC residents support a ban on oil tankers, but very few want an increase (12%). Keeping the status quo is the most popular option for eligible voters in British Columbia.  Those living on Vancouver Island had a higher level of support for a complete ban on oil tanker traffic.

Demographically, twice the number of men (16%) compared to women (8%) supported an increase in the tanker traffic along the BC coast. Younger BC residents were the most likely to support the maintenance of the status quo on tanker traffic whereas older residents were the more likely they were to support an increase in traffic.

Politically, among  NDP supporters over a third (35%) wanted a ban on traffic, and just over half (59%) wanted to maintain the status quo.


Natural Gas Fracking

There was a fairly even split between a moratorium on fracking until more studies are done (43%)  and the allowing fracking to continue under strict monitoring (39%). Only 14% wanted it to ban fracking all together and a small 4% supported the statements “frack baby frack”.

Residents in the interior of BC had the strongest support for a moratorium on fracking until studies could be conducted at 45%, while central and northern BC residents had the most support for the continuation of fracking under monitored conditions at 47%.

Just over half of Liberal and Conservative supporters (52%) were in support of their position to continue fracking with monitoring in place. Exactly half (50%) of NDP supporters agreed with stopping fracking until the further studies can be conducted.

Kitimat Refinery

The majority of BC residents either strongly support (18%) or mostly support (39%) the construction of a heavy-oil refinery in Kitimat. The strongest regional support came from Central and Northern BC residents who had 16% who strongly supported and 56% mostly supporting the project.

There is a relationship between provincial vote intention and support for the heavy-oil refinery in Kitimat.  Seventy-six percent of BC Liberal supporters support the refinery while only 44% of NDP supporters support the refinery.  BC Conservative supporters were most supportive with 86% saying they either strongly or somewhat support the refinery proposal for Kitimat.

Bottom Line

Energy policy has been a major issue of the BC election campaign with the BC Liberals and Conservatives lined up on the pro-development side and the BC NDP and Greens less enthusiastic about energy development.

Although the main political parties appear to black or white on many issues, public opinion on many projects is closer to shades of gray and somewhat contradictory.

A majority of British Columbians support building a heavy-oil refinery in Kitimat but most do not want to see an increase in oil tanker traffic off the coast of the province.

When it comes to natural gas fracking, opinion is more nuanced with 39% supporting fracking with environmental monitoring in place and another 43% supporting a suspension of fracking until more studies are done to determine the safest way to proceed.

Opinion about the Northern Gateway Pipeline is also nuanced.  Only one in three British Columbians are completely opposed to the pipeline with almost a majority of NDP and Green Party supporters holding that view (NDP 46%, Green 46%).

Most British Columbians support resource development but many also want to make sure that environmental monitoring and protections are in place to safeguard the natural spaces across the province.

British Columbians are not anti-development by any measure.  About a third of the province’s eligible voters take a hard line on resource development but the majority are open to natural resource fracking, Northern Gateway, and a refinery in Kitimat.

The problem is that even if the resource is developed in the province, getting it to markets in Asia by tanker is still a non-starter for most British Columbians.


The survey was conducted online with 1,042 British Columbians eligible to vote in the 2013 provincial election using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from the Research Now consumer panel of over 500,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from April 23 to 26, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,042 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched British Columbia’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

The survey was commissioned by the Sun News Network.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248



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