Poll: Oil, gas and coal gain favor as alternatives slip

A greater proportion of Americans today than a year ago views increasing production of oil, natural gas and coal as more important than further developing alternative energy, though the latter still holds a majority on the question, according to a new poll.

According to the Pew Research Center poll, 52 percent of Americans say they feel boosting alternative energy is more important than increasing fossil fuel production, down from 63 percent at the same time last year. The poll also showed the percentage of Americans who view boosting oil, natural gas and coal as the more important of the two options jumped from 29 percent to 39 percent over the past year.

As a result the margin held by alternative energy shrunk 21 percentage points since March 2011.

“At a time of rising gas prices, the public’s energy priorities have changed,” said a report accompanying the poll results.

The poll, which surveyed 1,503 adults, also found support for offshore drilling has returned to levels seen prior to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Of those surveyed, 65 percent support more offshore drilling.

Two months prior to the Macondo disaster, 63 percent of Americans favored more offshore drilling, but the number fell dramatically to 44 percent in June 2010 after the nation’s worst oil spill had started.

The poll found 63 percent of Americans knew a little or a lot about hydraulic fracturing, of whom 52 percent said they supported its use to tap domestic resources, according to the poll. Meanwhile 35 percent of those familiar with fracturing oppose it, the process for injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to break open and release trapped oil and gas from dense rock, according to the poll.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, said the poll shows how environmental concerns often take a backseat to financial concerns among Americans when gasoline prices go up.

“They’re willing to give up a little bit of environmental views so long as it helps them save at the pump,” DeHaan said.

Republicans have used the rising gasoline prices as an opportunity to hammer President Barack Obama over his energy policies, claiming his policies have impeded natural gas and oil production and helped cause gasoline to rise over the past three years.

Republicans have routinely called for increased domestic drilling, opening more offshore areas and removing regulations they view as unnecessary and harmful. But Obama has criticized those arguments by saying that they wouldn’t provide relief for consumers at the pump.

The Pew poll, however, shows that the Republican message has struck a chord with the public as gasoline prices have kept rising, DeHaan said.

“It just shows Americans believe that drilling is equated with lower prices, when that’s not necessarily the reality,” DeHaan said.

Analysts have said additional drilling will take years to come online and more domestic drilling will likely only have a marginal effect on global crude oil prices, the major determinant of what consumers pay at the pump. They say there are few if any short-term solutions U.S. policymakers can take stem the recent run-up in gasoline prices.

DeHaan said global crude oil prices have continued to rise even though U.S. oil production, including in areas such as North Dakota’s Bakken shale play, has risen. Analysts say the ongoing tensions with Iran are to blame the most for the recent oil-price run-up and also note that continually increasing demand from emerging markets has also added upward pressure.