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Poll: 51 Percent of Americans Oppose Offshore Oil Drilling

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon on April 21, 2010. The rig, located 51 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, exploded on April 20, 2010. (Image credit: USCG)

As the Deepwater Horizon leak continues to dump oil into the Gulf of Mexico, American opinions about offshore oil drilling have begun to shift. More than half now believe the risks of offshore drilling outweigh the benefits, according to a nationwide survey by Virginia Commonwealth University released today.

Views about offshore drilling are likely influenced by the major oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the survey. The leak has been ongoing since an April 20 explosion aboard a drilling rig. The leak raises the specter of environmental risks from offshore drilling when the process goes awry.

When asked specifically about the risk and benefit tradeoffs of offshore drilling, a 51-percent majority indicate the environmental risks outweigh the benefits; 35 percent think the benefits outweigh the environmental risks.

However, opinion among the general population about increasing offshore oil drilling is currently divided with 45 percent in support of increasing offshore drilling and 44 percent opposed.

The survey also covered a range of other science- and environment-related beliefs. When asked to evaluate a series of environmental and energy issues as potential problems for the country, the most widespread concern was pollution. Eight in 10 adults said pollution of the country's rivers, lakes and reservoirs is a major problem, 16 percent said it is a minor problem, and just 3 percent believe this is not a problem.

Air pollution is seen as a major problem by 74 percent of adults. Seventy-three percent said overreliance on energy from oil and gas is a major problem.

Global warming, by comparison, is one of the least likely issues to be seen as a major problem; 54 percent said it is a major problem, 23 percent consider it a minor problem, and 19 percent said it is not a problem. Views about global warming are divided along partisan lines. Seven in 10 Democrats said global warming is a major problem. This compares with 27 percent of Republicans saiding the same. A majority (53 percent) of independents think global warming is a major problem.

The survey was conducted by landline and cell phone with 1,001 adults nationwide from May 12-18. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

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