Poll: Americans think risks too high on drilling, back Obama's moratorium

Almost half of Americans say the risks associated with offshore drilling are too great to justify oil exploration, while even more favor the temporary ban on deepwater offshore drilling.

Forty-nine percent of respondents in a New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday said the costs and risks associated with drilling for oil and natural gas in U.S. waters were too great, while 42 percent favored increased exploration.

By a larger margin, Americans as a whole backed President Barack Obama's six-month ban on new oil drilling starts in deep waters.

Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said it was a good idea to halt new drilling until an investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be completed, compared to 30 percent who said it was a bad idea.

But stark fault lines emerged between the public as a whole and those in Gulf states, where respondents maintained a relatively more favorable opinion toward drilling.

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed in the poll who are from the Gulf — defined as a series of counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — said they favored more exploration, with 36 percent saying the risks were too great. A slight plurality of Gulf respondents, 49 percent to 47, also said Obama's short-term ban on deepwater drilling was a bad idea.

The division between Gulf-state priorities and the country as a whole has also played itself out in Congress, where a number of lawmakers in both parties have pleaded with Obama to lift his ban on deepwater drilling. Republicans have introduced legislation to reverse the ban, while Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has leaned on the president to end the moratorium. The lawmakers worry that the halt in exploration could leave thousands of employees from the industry in their home states jobless in the short term, and potentially longer if oil-and-gas companies choose to move their resources elsewhere.

The poll, conducted June 16-20, has a 3 percent margin of error for all respondents and a 5 percent margin of error for Gulf Coast residents.