Support for expanded drilling rebounds

A survey released on the eve of the BP oil spill’s one-year anniversary shows that support for expanded offshore drilling has bounced back to levels last seen during the energy price spikes of the summer of 2008.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found 69 percent of respondents favor more drilling. Forty-five percent of adults “strongly favor” increased drilling in U.S. waters, while 24 percent “mildly” favor it, according to the poll taken April 9-10.

The survey had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percent.

The numbers are similar to polling from late July 2008, the month that oil and gasoline prices reached record highs. CNN polling at the time showed 46 percent strongly in favor and 23 percent mildly in favor of expanded drilling.

Support dipped after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and set in motion the spill of more than 4 million barrels of crude oil during several months.

CNN polling conducted on May 21-23 of last year showed just 27 percent strongly favored expanded drilling, while 30 percent were mildly in favor.

The new polling — which comes as gasoline prices are rising — might indicate a political tailwind for GOP efforts to ensure wider offshore drilling.

House Republicans plan to bring several bills to the floor in May that would mandate faster permitting and widen offshore areas available for drilling to include the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and farther off Alaska’s coast.

But Obama administration officials — who are focusing on leasing and drilling in areas already open for development — oppose the measures. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they reflect “amnesia about the catastrophic BP spill.

The new CNN poll tracks others that show a partisan divide on drilling, although a majority of Democrats now favor expanded drilling.

According to the poll, 28 percent of Democrats strongly favor increased drilling and 28 percent mildly favor it, although the margin of error in the party-specific questioning is in the 6 percent range.

On the GOP side, 67 percent of Republicans strongly favor expanded drilling while 19 percent mildly support it.

Despite the support for expanded drilling, the poll shows a lack of confidence in regulators’ ability to prevent another massive Gulf spill.

Just 7 percent are “very” confident that federal regulators can prevent another big spill, 34 percent are “somewhat” confident, 29 percent are “not very” confident and 28 percent are not confident at all.

The Interior Department in the wake of the spill has issued an array of heightened safety requirements that it says have increased safeguards against blowouts and improved containment, though it acknowledges the efforts are a work in progress.