Expanding Offshore Drilling: Not in the Public's Favor

Americans overwhelmingly support moving our energy policy forward. They want to stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction on publicly owned lands and oceans, and instead invest in clean energy, according to a new poll by Hart Research Associates, commissioned by NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters. The public favors investment in renewables and energy efficiency over “traditional” energy sources; is deeply concerned about the risks fossil fuel extraction poses to human health and the environment; supports keeping fossil fuels in the ground to combat climate change; and strongly favors permanently protecting the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from oil drilling.

Data from Hart Research Associates, “Americans’ Views on US Fossil Fuel Policy and Clean Energy,” (October 2016)

In fact, 59 percent of Americans would support President Obama permanently protecting the publicly-owned portions Arctic and Atlantic oceans from oil drilling, Hart’s survey revealed. That includes 84 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Independents. Only 36 per cent are opposed.

Millennials—more than any other age group—support the transition to clean energy and the protection of federal lands. Decisions we make now will determine the world our children and grandchildren inherit—and millennials appear to be keenly aware of that fact.

These results confirm what we already knew: the American people care about their shared heritage and the numerous risks new drilling would unleash.

These unspoiled oceans, as well as all our federally managed lands and waters, are held in the public trust. They should be used to further the public’s interest.

That will never include opening pristine, undrilled waters to Big Oil. It won’t include risking the destruction of fragile ecosystems that support unique and beautiful marine life or unleashing more carbon pollution into the atmosphere and dangerous pollution into our communities. It must not include expanding drilling and mining in areas already hard hit by decades of exploitation, like the Gulf of Mexico.

This evidence of robust public support is one more reason President Obama should lay the foundation for reforming how we utilize our federally managed resources by putting a halt to expanded offshore drilling, and make history by permanently protecting the Arctic and Atlantic for all time.

Hart also asked about other pressing issues at the intersection of energy production and environmental protection. Here are key findings:

  • Two in three Americans (65%) support “keeping as much of our current supplies of oil, gas, and coal in the ground as possible to avoid making climate change worse,” including, notably, 54 percent of non-conservative Republicans.
  • To that end, 55 percent of Americans favor the Obama Administration stopping new oil, gas, and coal development on public lands and waters, while only 39 percent are opposed.
  • 60 percent of Americans prefer investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources over “traditional” energy sources; only 30 percent prefer the latter.
  • Millennials support protecting public waters and land and aggressive clean energy investment more strongly than the previous generation.
Data from Hart Research Associates, “Americans’ Views on US Fossil Fuel Policy and Clean Energy,” (October 2016)

Last week, 14 Democratic U.S. Senators wrote, in a letter to President Obama, that permanently protecting the Arctic and Atlantic would ensure “that we align our long-term federal energy decisions with a climate-safe future.” The Senators’ letter echoed another letter sent to the President by a bipartisan group of 74 Members of Congress not long before. The earlier letter argued, “The United States must continue to lead the fight against global warming not only by committing to clean energy alternatives, but also by closing the door on new, dangerous and environmentally harmful fossil fuel extraction.”

The polling released today further validates these strong arguments. It shows that support for permanent protection extends far beyond the Beltway. It’s the will of the people.

With three months left in office, President Obama can still steer our energy policy in a cleaner direction. He has the power to protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from drilling once and for all. Hart’s poll makes clear that the majority of the public would greet that with open arms.

The American people deserve certainty. This is an opportunity for our president to crown his outstanding environmental legacy. He should not let the opportunity pass.

You can find the full results of the poll, “Americans’ Views on US Fossil Fuel Policy and Clean Energy,” here.

About the Authors

Franz Matzner

Deputy Director, Federal Campaigns, Center for Policy Advocacy

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