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Student researchers study Huerfano’s energy questions

by William T. Beverly, Ph.D.
WALSENBURG — Some months ago, County Commissioner Art Bobian and the publishers of the Huerfano World Journal asked John Mall Opportunity and Enrichment students Haylea East and Kevin Kleinschmidt to help resolve two rather contentious countywide issues: 1. How do Huerfanos feel about fracking? and 2. How do Huerfanos feel about farming for wind energy in the county? Led by their teacher Deborah Nott, East and Kleinschmidt set out for some answers.
During January 2012, the students used a somewhat random methodology to select local phone numbers with 742, 738 and 746 prefixes from the reverse directory published in the Local Pages.
Of the 316 numbers they attempted to survey, they questioned 100 people. This sample loosely represented about 1% of Huerfano’s population. The researchers also noted that approximately 11% of the calls made were to phone numbers that had been disconnected. So much for the phone book!
Of the surveyed sample of 100 Huerfanos, the student researchers report that the sample included the following age groups: 5% ages 17 and younger, 22% ages 18-40, 38% ages 41-62 and 35% ages 63 and older. The researchers noted that 49% of the sample reported owning land in unincorporated Huerfano County.
Their first question was, “Do you support or oppose deep-well natural gas exploration in Huerfano County?” They report that of these respondents, 37% supported deep-well natural gas exploration, 49% opposed it, and 14% were indecisive.
Their second question, “Do you support or oppose wind energy development in the county’s designated wind area east of I-25?” yielded responses including 76% in support, 13% opposed, and 11% undecided.
As would any responsible researcher, these student researchers reported a number of limitations that were likely to impact their findings. For example, the first limitation was time constrictions (i.e., most of their phone calls were made during school hours, Monday-Thursday 8 am to 4 pm). Thus this sample did not necessarily represent those Huerfanos who work during the daytime.
Second, at a certain point during their sampling, they switched to a different type of phone book. And they switched from calling every third number to calling every sixth number. Therefore, the survey sample was not selected in a strict systematically random fashion. Thus, the results should not be not generalized to the rest of the county’s population.
Third, in the midst of their process, these student researchers slightly changed the introduction to the survey as it was “quite a mouthful.” They rightly deduced that having a shorter intro would encourage more responses.
Fourth, in the survey results, they included some person-to-person responses that they solicited at the RE-1 school complex. This further challenged the notion that the sample was randomly selected.
Fifth, these skillful student researchers noted that persons who only have cell phones may have been systematically excluded from the survey, as cell phone numbers may not have the prefixes included in the study (i.e., 738, 742 and 746). Who knows whether people who only use cell phones think differently about these important issues than do people who have landlines?
Finally, while this study was clearly in part about fracking, the term “fracking” was not mentioned in the question about “deep-well natural gas exploration.” Therefore, persons who might oppose fracking but do not know it as “deep-well natural gas exploration” may not have answered in opposition. If that question had used the familiar term “fracking” instead, such persons might have answered in opposition instead of the affirmative or undecided.
All in all, these student researchers and their wonderful teacher should be highly commended for their public service, for their donated brainpower, their stick-to-it-iv-ness, and for their willingness to keep on learning! Congrats Haylea, Kevin and Deb, you did an incredible job! Huerfano truly needs more citizens like you.

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