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It seems Americans are ready to give federal land to oil companies

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Staff Writer | March 24, 2017
Oil exploration
Ecology   Oil exploration

Slightly more Americans now oppose (53%) rather than favor (46%) opening up land owned by the federal government for oil exploration.

In prior years, a majority favored the proposal, including 65% in 2012.

The results are based on Gallup's annual Environment poll, which explores Americans' opinions on issues involving energy production and environmental consumption.

The federal government currently allows oil exploration on a limited amount of land that it owns, but many political leaders and energy production advocates have called for an expansion of federal lands open to energy exploration.

When Gallup first asked about opening federal lands for oil exploration using this question wording in March 2012, gas prices were much higher than they are today.

At that time, a gallon of gasoline averaged $3.91, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Two years later, gas prices had fallen but were still relatively high, averaging $3.61.

By November 2014, gas prices had fallen below $3; the most recent estimates, from February 2017, show gas averaging $2.42 a gallon.

Declining gas prices are likely a key reason Americans' concerns about energy have waned in recent years. In 2012, 48% said they worried "a great deal" about the availability and affordability of energy, tied for the high in Gallup's 17-year trend. Currently, 27% worry a great deal, tied for the low.

As such, Americans may not see a compelling need to explore for oil on land that is currently off-limits to energy producers. That is consistent with Americans' prioritizing protection of the environment over developing new energy supplies.

Since 2012, all key U.S. subgroups show significant declines in the percentage in favor of opening federal lands for oil exploration. Still, differences exist between certain groups, especially by partisanship.

Currently, 73% of Republicans - versus 27% of Democrats - favor oil exploration on federally owned lands.

While there was also a large partisan gap in 2012, it was not as wide as it is today, given that 86% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats then favored such oil exploration.

In addition to party, there are sharp differences by age, with 58% of senior citizens but only 28% of young adults now in favor of allowing oil exploration on federal lands.


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