The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Fracking: The Wedge Issue of 2012?


The Pew Research Center reports that support for offshore oil drilling is back up to the levels seen before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the more politically significant point might be in their findings on public attitudes towards the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting natural gas, or “fracking.”

Pew finds:

Support for allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters, which plummeted during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has recovered to pre-spill levels. Nearly two-thirds (65%) favor allowing increased offshore drilling, up from 57% a year ago and 44% in June 2010, during the Gulf spill.

Currently, more than twice as many favor than oppose increased offshore drilling (65% vs. 31%). In June 2010, only 44% favored more offshore drilling while 52% were opposed. The balance of opinion today is almost identical to what it was in February 2010, two months before the Gulf oil disaster (63% favor, 31% oppose).

Unsurprisingly, some Americans aren’t familiar with fracking, but among those who are, support is fairly widespread. It’s an issue that pits Republicans, independents, and conservative and moderate Democrats on one side, against liberal Democrats on the other.

Among those who have heard about fracking, there is more support than opposition. About half (52%) favor fracking, while 35% are opposed to the process. As with opinions about many other energy policies there is a wide partisan gap in views of fracking: 73% of Republicans who have heard of fracking favor it, compared with 54% of independents and just 33% of Democrats . . .

Republicans who have heard at least a little about fracking are far more likely than Democrats to favor the process (73% vs. 33%), and there is little difference in opinion among Republicans. But among Democrats who are aware of fracking, there is a wide ideological gap. Conservative and moderate Democrats are split about evenly — 39% favor fracking while 43% are opposed. By contrast, liberal Democrats oppose fracking by a 64% to 26% margin.

Fully 89% of Republicans favor allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling while only half of Democrats agree. A majority of independents (64%) support increased drilling off the U.S. coast.

It’s a perfect wedge issue to separate Democratic officeholders from their liberal base.

Obama offered some praise for fracking, even though he didn’t use that particular term, in his State of the Union address (even though he exaggerated the government’s role in developing the technology).

The EPA’s final report on the safety of fracking will be completed in 2014. Environmentalists are hoping Obama will take a tougher line, and the oil and gas industries argue that existing state regulations on hydraulic fracturing techniques are sufficient, as more than one million wells have already been developed with this method. Obama’s Interior Secretary has indicated a desire to establish a system of federal regulations for fracking as well. Industry leaders say they have “repeatedly requested” that the Department of the Interior utilize the existing state-operated reporting system “instead of attempting to create a different, costly and unnecessary new reporting process.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Gas Prices , Polling


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