New polling indicates that for the first time in five years, a slim majority of Americans oppose oil exploration on federally owned lands. The shift in public opinion arrives at a time when the Trump administration plans to expand domestic oil drilling.
On March 24, a Gallup survey found that 53 percent of national adults opposed the proposal of opening up more federal lands for potential oil drilling, while 46 percent were in favor. The latest survey results are the first time that Gallup has found a majority of Americans opposing the proposal.
In March 2012, when Gallup first polled on the topic, 65 percent supported expanding oil exploration to federal lands while only 34 percent were opposed. While public opinion gradually inverted in the ensuing years, March 2017 marks the first time more respondents were opposed than in favor.
The latest survey found that support for oil exploration on federal lands has dropped among all demographics since 2012. Over the last five years, support has dipped by 23 percentage points among Democrats, 16 points among Independents and 13 points among Republicans.
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Gallup noted that one factor that may have influenced Americans' shifting opinions about oil drilling on federal lands is gas prices. In March 2012, the average gallon of gasoline cost $3.91 while in February 2017 that figure had dropped to $2.42. The survey found that while 48 percent of national adults had worried about energy affordability five years ago, only 27 percent currently feel the same anxiety.
The federal government currently owns roughly 500 million acres of land, much of it reserved as national parks and wildlife refuges. While former President Barack Obama had signed several executive orders prohibiting millions of federal acres from future oil drilling, President Donald Trump had vowed to expand oil exploration on federal land on the campaign trail, according to Reuters.
On Feb. 10, the Trump administration's Bureau of Land Management sold oil drilling rights for more than 10,000 acres of land in Wyoming, half of which is federally owned, for $129.3 million. The sale was the largest BLM had made since 2013, The Daily Caller reports.
On March 24, the same day that Gallup released its new findings, Trump formally approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The controversial project will stretch for 900 miles and would begin in Canada and stretch from Montana through Texas, NBC News reports.
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"It's gonna be an incredible pipeline ... And frankly, we're very proud of it," Trump said from the White House.
While the pipeline is expected to carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day, the State Department has estimated that the pipeline would only result in 35 permanent jobs once completed.
The U.S. is already largely independent from foreign oil. In 2015, only roughly 25 percent of U.S. petroleum came from imports, according to Newsweek.