Poll: Support plunges for offshore drilling; regulators blamed for Gulf spill

By Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen
Thursday, June 10, 2010; A18

Just a quarter of Americans back expanding offshore drilling in the wake of the BP oil spill, and most fault federal regulators for the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Before the spill, the Obama administration lifted the moratorium on drilling in U.S. coastal waters as a way to address the country's energy needs. But most Americans now want fewer offshore wells (31 percent) or the amount kept at current levels (41 percent).

Perhaps as a consequence of the spill, public support for oil and gas drilling in general is also significantly lower than it was a year ago. And as Americans have become increasingly skeptical about such exploration, some elected representatives are now questioning what the government is doing to ensure that offshore exploration can take place safely.

On Wednesday during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, the panel's chairman, Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), said the gulf oil spill underscores a failure of both BP and the federal government.

"It's clear that prior to the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig neither the companies involved nor the government adequately appreciated or prepared for the risks involved in a deep-water drilling operation of this type," Bingaman said.

The new Post-ABC poll reveals a widespread perception that poor federal regulation was at fault in the gulf spill. About 63 percent point a finger at inadequate enforcement of regulations, and 55 percent see an overall weak regulatory structure. Even more, 73 percent, blame BP and its drilling partners for the accident. And the same number are calling the spill a major environmental disaster.

In an interview Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) said it sometimes "takes a tragedy of these proportions" to provide the political will to impose stricter federal rules on energy exploration.

The broad concern about government inaction directly relates to public support for new drilling: Those who see a weak regulatory structure as a reason for the spill are about twice as likely to want to curb offshore drilling than are those who don't see the need for stricter federal controls.

About half of the poll respondents, 49 percent, now see the gulf spill as part of a broader problem with such drilling. Support for drilling in general has slipped from 64 percent last August to 52 percent now.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted June 3 to 6, among a random national sample of 1,004 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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