Survey says: Most Americans back Keystone XL

A majority of Americans want the U.S. government to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to a Gallup poll released today.

According to the nationwide survey, 57 percent of Americans believe the government should permit construction of the pipeline, which would transport oil sands crude from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

While support is strongest among Republicans — with roughly eight in 10 supporting the project — 44 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents also said they wanted to see the pipeline built.

The survey results were delivered as President Barack Obama heads to a pipe yard in Cushing, Okla., where he is set to push for speedy permitting and construction of Keystone XL’s roughly 500-mile southern leg. Administration officials said that segment, which would run from Cushing to the Gulf Coast, is essential to relieving a major bottleneck of oil, now landlocked in the Midwest.

Obama also is issuing an executive order that would fast-track federal agency approvals for the southern portion of the pipeline. But his move will not affect TransCanada Corp.’s currently stalled plans to build other segments of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline over the U.S.-Canada border.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration rejected a cross-border permit for that northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it needed more study, including an environmental analysis of the proposed route through ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska.

Republicans and oil industry leaders insist that the White House was playing politics — and trying to appease environmentalists — with the move. The same Keystone XL backers recently have seized on rising gasoline prices to paint Obama’s energy policies as out of touch.

Critics today said that Obama was unfairly trying to claim credit for speeding up work on a pipeline stretch that wasn’t under his control — while still standing in the way of the northern segment.

“We are encouraged to see the president speed up approval of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice President Marty Durbin. “We now hope he will speed up the approval of the entire pipeline.”

With worries about the rising cost of oil and gasoline threatening to spill into the November elections, the White House appears to be softening its stance. Obama’s visit to Oklahoma today is just one stop on a two-day tour to tout his energy policies. On Wednesday night, he swung by oil and gas production fields in New Mexico, where more than 70 rigs are actively drilling.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said Obama was “trying to associate himself with oil and gas development” in order to get reelected and distance himself from rising gasoline prices. The president “is running scared from his anti-fossil fuel agenda,” Inhofe said.

Many Americans — 49 percent according to the Gallup poll– are paying attention to the issue, raising the political stakes.