Competing polls produce mixed views on oil and gas development

Greg Campbell | Contributor

When it comes to attitudes about oil and gas drilling, feelings vary depending on whom you ask — and on who’s doing the polling. Two new surveys demonstrate this principle by getting widely divergent public opinions on energy exploration.

A new poll conducted on behalf of the progressive Center for American Progress shows that oil and gas development on federal lands isn’t as popular an idea among Westerners as many might think.

Sixty-five percent of those polled in April and May said that permanently protecting wilderness areas, parks and open space is their most important priority for federal lands, and 63 percent said preserving them for recreational purposes was most important.

Only 30 percent of those polled supported oil and gas drilling.

Hart Research Associates surveyed people who live in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Idaho.

About 1,000 people were contacted overall, with numbers varying by state depending on population.

In a press release announcing the results, the Center for American Progress (CAP) points out that the previous Congress was the only one since World War II that did not preserve any U.S. land, but that the Obama administration had leased 2.5 times more land for drilling than is permanently protected.

“This is a case where Washington’s policies and rhetoric are still locked in a drilling-first mindset, but Westerners want the protection of public lands to be put on equal ground,” CAP Chairman John Podesta is quoted as saying. “Voters do not see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands — including new parks, wilderness, and monuments — as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.”

Nationally, the views are a bit different — a poll of 1,000 “high-performing voters” conducted in May by the industry trade group Western Energy Alliance shows overwhelming support (78 percent) for increasing oil and gas production inside the United States. A plurality of respondents, 24 percent, say that development should be done on federal land.

“Despite what critics are saying, voters have a favorable opinion of how oil and natural gas is produced in America,” said Tim Wigley, president of Western Energy Alliance, in a statement. “They believe the right amount, or even too many regulations are currently in place and that individual states are best suited to oversee oil and natural gas development. When asked where the priority for energy development should take place, almost one-in-four (24 percent) chose federal lands over state or private lands.”

An earlier report by the association estimated that all of the oil and gas development projects proposed for federal lands as of January 2012 that were still languishing in the federal review process could create more than 67,000 jobs and have an overall economic impact of $15.4 billion.

“By 2020, the West could produce as much oil and natural gas on a daily basis as the U.S. imports from Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria, and Colombia combined,” the October 2012 report said, “while creating new jobs, expanding investment and providing much needed government revenue.”

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