June 22, 2010 / 8:07 PM / 7 years ago

U.S. public still backs offshore drilling

<p>Oil floats on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico around the Transocean Development Driller III, which is drilling a relief well, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in this June 2, 2010 file photo.Sean Gardner</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of Americans still support offshore drilling on the U.S. coastline despite the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.

The poll also found 89 percent of the U.S. public blame British energy giant BP Plc for the spill, the worst in U.S. history, and 69 percent think the U.S. government is also at fault.

About three-quarters of the public believe neither BP nor the government responded quickly enough to the environmental disaster, which threatens wildlife, fertile fishing grounds and popular tourist beaches along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"Americans generally are mad, and they blame everyone for this -- whether it's the government or Big Oil, specifically BP," Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said.

A U.S. federal court ruled on Tuesday against President Barack Obama's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after an April 20 explosion at an offshore oil rig in the Gulf killed 11 people and triggered the huge spill. The White House promised to appeal.

With the oil still spewing two months later, 56 percent of Americans believe offshore drilling is necessary for the United States to produce its own energy and not rely on other countries for oil, while 38 percent believe it is a bad idea.

The poll found 69 percent have not changed their views on drilling despite the spill, with 24 percent now more opposed and 5 percent more in favor of drilling.

"While people see the problem, they still see the need to drill offshore, at least until there is some sort of longterm solution," Young said. "But the longer people stay mad and the longer this stays around, it might change the fundamental outlook on these things."

BLAMING BP, GOVERNMENT

Obama, who has been criticized for his response to the spill, has been harshly critical of BP. In an Oval Office speech last week, he said the disaster offered a chance to break the U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and he called on Congress to pass energy legislation this year.

The poll found a huge majority believes BP is at fault for the spill, with 67 percent saying it is "very much" at fault and 22 percent saying it is "somewhat" at fault.

Just 9 percent believe the beleaguered company, which has agreed to create a $20 billion escrow fund to pay out damages and seen its share price drop dramatically, is not at fault.

About 69 percent of the public believe the U.S. government was either very much or somewhat at fault, with 30 percent believing it was not. The government agency that regulates offshore drilling came under heavy fire after the spill, and has been reorganized with a new director.

The poll found 78 percent believe BP did not respond quickly enough to the spill, which it has not been able to stop despite numerous efforts. But the U.S. government barely fared better, with 72 percent believing it did not respond swiftly enough.

The telephone poll of 1,005 Americans was conducted June 17 to 20 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman

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