Industry poll says Americans want more oil production, support offshore drilling

Americans overwhelmingly want the U.S. to produce more domestic oil and natural gas, but few believe the federal government is doing enough to encourage such activity, according to an industry-backed survey released Wednesday.

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Petroleum Institute, shows that 68 percent of voters across the political spectrum support offshore drilling and the same percentage say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports offshore drilling in the U.S.

The Petroleum Institute released its survey of more than 1,000 registered voters  as the Obama administration considers what federal waters should be opened up for offshore drilling in the coming years.

Related story: Feds launch planning for offshore lease sales

Industry trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, have pushed the administration to consider selling leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

New offshore drilling would create thousands of new jobs, pump billions into government coffers and strengthen national security by reducing reliance on other nations that wield their oil and gas supplies as a “destabilizing weapon of diplomacy,” API’s upstream director Erik Milito said in a conference call with reporters.

In the Atlantic alone, offshore drilling could generate 280,000 new jobs and $51 billion in government revenue, Milito said. Decisions made today affect the nation’s future as an international energy superpower, he said.

Opponents of expanded oil and gas leasing in these areas argue that the risks of offshore drilling outweigh potential benefits. Fourteen congressional leaders from Oregon and Washington sent a letter Tuesday discouraging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from agreeing to offshore oil and gas lease sales off the Pacific Northwest coast.

The industry’s assurances of safety and environmental protection are meaningless when once incident, like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, can devastate a coastal ecosystem and economy, the lawmakers wrote.

Milito acknowledged that politics may complicate the industry’s ability to obtain drilling rights in the Pacific Coast, but said overall, there is broad bipartisan support for removing government roadblocks and creating more opportunities for domestic offshore oil and gas production.

On Friday, the Obama administration approved the use of air guns and sonic sensors to search for possible oil and gas hidden beneath the Atlantic seafloor, paving the way for possible drilling off the East Coast and upsetting some environmental groups that contend the seismic testing can harm sea creatures.

Related story: Feds OK first-in-decades oil studies off East Coast

While Milito continued to criticize  constraints the administration placed on the testing, arguing the industry has done a good job of protecting marine mammals, he lauded the decision as a positive step forward in gaining a clearer picture of the reserves the Atlantic holds.

The government is unlikely to wait for the results of those surveys before deciding whether to sell oil and gas leases off the mid- and south Atlantic U.S. coasts. Seismic testing could begin as early as spring 2015, but that shouldn’t prevent the government from including Atlantic blocks in a five-year lease plan for 2018-2022 that is under consideration now.

The Petroleum Institute plans to submit formal comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management  next week.