In Spill’s Aftermath, Support for Drilling Declines

Jun 9, 2010 1:00pm

Public support for oil drilling has declined in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, with little backing specifically for the increased offshore drilling President Obama proposed barely a month before the spill began. The broadest interest, instead, is in renewable energy sources.

Fifty-two percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll continue to support federal action to increase oil drilling in general as a way to address the country’s energy needs. But that’s down from 64 percent last summer and 67 percent in 2001.

In another question, just 25 percent specifically favor increased drilling offshore, as Obama had proposed but subsequently put on hold pending a safety review. A plurality (41 percent) would hold offshore drilling steady, rather than decrease it (31 percent).

There’s a range of factors behind these views. The public divides about evenly on whether the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an isolated incident or a sign of broader problems with offshore drilling. More blame is placed on inadequate enforcement than on too-weak regulations, but majorities see both as involved (63 and 55 percent, respectively). And the greatest blame, as reported Monday, is on the oil company BP and its drilling partners, for taking unnecessary risks.

Such views matter. Among people who see the Deepwater Horizon spill as an isolated incident, 69 percent support more oil drilling overall. That plummets to 36 percent among those who see the spill as a sign of broader problems. Support for drilling also is nearly 20 points higher among the relatively few who don’t see the current spill as a major environmental disaster.

The trend isn't a surprise  – as reported previously, concern about offshore drilling spiked after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989.

The Obama administration on Tuesday moved to resume shallow-water offshore drilling, with toughened safety rules, a subject on which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testifies before Congress today. New deep-water drilling remains on hold pending further review.

ALTERNATIVES/GROUPS – Americans divide on another energy option, increased federal support for the construction of nuclear power plants, with 49 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed. The far more popular option, as in past years, is development of solar and wind power, with 87 percent support – including 80 percent who feel strongly about it.

There are differences among groups. Increased oil drilling is more popular among men than women, 58 percent vs. 46 percent, and, as in the past, there’s a much bigger gap on nuclear power – 63 percent support from men, just 37 percent among women.

Drilling gets much less support among young adults than their elders, and there are partisan and ideological gaps as well, with conservatives and Republicans more supportive, liberals and Democrats less so. Specifically on offshore drilling, support peaks, at 44 percent, among conservative Republicans, compared with a low of just 12 percent among liberals.

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