Poll: Support for offshore drilling returns to pre-spill levels

While the majority of the public still says developing alternative energy sources like wind and solar should be the country’s top energy priority, the poll shows that a growing number of people see expanded fossil fuel production as the most important issue.

About 39 percent of the public says expanded oil, natural gas and coal production should be the country’s top priority, up from 29 percent last year. Fifty-two percent say development of renewable energy should be a top priority, down from 63 percent last year.

As gasoline prices soar, Republicans have taken aim at President Obama’s energy policies, arguing he is not doing enough to expand domestic oil-and-gas production. But energy analysts say even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little short-term effect on gasoline prices.

The poll also finds that the public knows very little about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a drilling method in which sand, water and chemicals are injected into the ground in order to access valuable natural-gas supplies.

Twenty-six percent of those polled say they have heard a lot about fracking; 37 percent say they have heard a little about it; and 37 percent say they haven’t heard about the drilling technique at all.

A majority, 52 percent, of those who have heard of fracking support it, while 35 percent oppose it. Seventy-three percent of Republicans say they support fracking, while 33 percent of Democrats support it.

Fracking opponents have raised concerns that the chemicals used during drilling could pollute groundwater and cause other ecological damage. Industry groups and other fracking supporters say the concerns are overblown.

The Interior Department is slated to soon issue new regulations for fracking on public lands, and the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the health effects of the practice.

EPA issued a draft study last year that said fracking probably caused groundwater contamination in Wyoming. But the agency has warned against using the finding as a broader indictment of the drilling method.