Poll: Public uninformed on public land drilling issues
Westerners tend to want strong protective standards pertaining to drilling on public lands, but largely aren’t even aware such drilling occurs, a poll released Thursday has found.
The poll, conducted as part of the ongoing Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, also found that four out of five Westerners think public lands benefit their state’s economy and quality of life, and most believe that quality of life would be hurt if those lands were sold off.
The poll involved cellphone and land line interviews with 400 registered voters apiece in Colorado, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Questions were crafted by a bipartisan research team.
The survey found that 59 percent want strong standards for drilling on public lands, including barring it near recreation areas, water sources and wildlife. Fifty-six percent said some lands should be drilled but environmentally sensitive areas should be permanently protected, while 25 percent more said public lands drilling should be strictly limited.
However, 19 percent said they don’t believe oil and gas development occurs on public lands such as national forests and some national parks, and another 47 percent said they didn’t know if it does.
One of the pollsters, Dave Metz, said that finding likely would have been similar had it specifically referred to Bureau of Land Management lands. It shows “there’s a real opportunity here for public education,” and people’s positions might be different if more realized drilling on public lands already is happening, he said.
“It is interesting,” said Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas industry group. “You think a topic is a hot topic and you get the actual numbers and see how much the public is actually paying attention. We live in a complex society. There’s a lot going on. People don’t necessarily know where their energy is coming from; they don’t necessarily know where their food is all coming from as well.”
She said she thinks if people knew how little land is disturbed by oil and gas development and how heavily it is regulated, the poll results would be different. The poll found that 71 percent of people oppose selling off public lands, while 23 support that idea.