Most Americans support more U.S. oil drilling: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A push by U.S. President George W. Bush and Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain to lift a ban on U.S. offshore oil drilling could find plenty of support from Americans weary of rising energy costs, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll.

Some 59.6 percent of Americans surveyed in the poll released on Wednesday said they would favor government efforts to boost domestic drilling and refinery construction to cool record prices.

Roughly the same amount -- 59.3 percent -- said they would back efforts to reduce domestic demand in the world’s biggest energy consumer through tougher fuel-efficiency standards, while 54.2 percent of respondents said they supported increased use of biofuels like ethanol to cut gasoline use.

The poll results come as 2008 U.S. presidential candidates outline their programs to help ease the economic sting of record fuel prices on consumers.

Bush on Wednesday called on the U.S. Congress to end a decades-old ban on offshore oil drilling -- a plan backed by McCain but opposed by his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama -- as well as ending restrictions on oil shale drilling and opening up more acreage in Alaska for development.

Analysts say the plan to increase domestic drilling will offer no swift relief for consumers.

“We believe this (proposal) will have a limited impact given the long lag time to actual production and new supply coming online,” said Chris Jarvis, senior analyst for Caprock Risk Management in New Hampshire.

In addition to increasing production and conservation, 39 percent of the 1,113 likely voters surveyed said that they would support moves to pressure OPEC nations to increase output to bring down prices. Some 37 percent said they would favor withdrawing oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The Bush administration has called upon OPEC to increase output several times this year as oil prices surged to record peaks near $140. But the cartel has insisted that the market is well-supplied and blamed high prices on speculators.

Calls by some politicians to open the SPR to help bring down prices have been rejected by the administration, which has said the reserve should be used to counter supply disruptions.

The poll was conducted June 12-14 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.

Reporting by Richard Valdmanis and Matthew Robinson; Editing by Christian Wiessner