Public Lands: Protect vs. Drill

New Poll: Voters Favor Protecting Public Lands Over Drilling Them

Posted: 17 Jun 2013 01:38 PM PDT

A poll released today by the Center for American Progress shows strong evidence that Americans believe energy development and land conservation are out of balance. It also demonstrates that there is a wide gap between political rhetoric by the oil and gas industry and their allies in Congress and the opinions of westerners about oil and gas drilling.

Consider, for example, that in this survey:

– 65 percent of voters (across party lines) say that permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them
– 63 percent of voters are concerned with preserving access to recreation opportunities on public lands
– Only 30 percent of voters say that making sure that oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development is an important priority
– 49 percent of voters want the government to focus more on conserving public lands
– 29 percent of voters want the government to focus on more opportunities for oil and gas drilling

Additionally, poll respondents were most concerned with the impacts of drilling on their communities and environmentally sensitive areas (rather than too many restrictions being placed on drilling or too many areas being placed off limits to drilling). This finding directly contradicts industry rhetoric, which would have us believe that Americans want the doors thrown open to drilling on more public lands and waters. For example, Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute claimed that the public is “appalled” when it hears that some elected officials “resist development of American resources.”

The start of the second term of the Obama administration is an important time for conservation and energy policy. An analysis earlier this year shows that during its first term, the administration leased 6.3 million acres of public lands to oil and gas companies while only permanently protecting 2.6 million acres.

In order to address this disparity, a new campaign known as “Equal Ground” was launched today.

This campaign will advocate that Congress and the administration protect more national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas for future generations, and include land conservation as part of a balanced strategy.

Importantly, this sentiment tracks directly with what voters want. When asked to choose, 55 percent of respondents to the poll released today a say that the government should “put conservation on equal ground with drilling for oil and gas.”

As John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress put it on a press call today:

Voters don’t see conservation and development of public lands as an either-or choice; instead, they want to see expanded protections for public lands – including new parks, wilderness, and monuments – as part of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy.

And Duane Zavadil of the Bill Barrett Corporation put it this way: there can be “a clear delineation of appropriateness of place” for both energy and conservation on public lands.