FOR decades after the Middle East oil embargoes of the 1970s, Americans yearned to be independent of foreign energy sources. With nuclear power off the table after the accident at Three Mile Island and drilling offshore and in Alaska limited by environmental opposition, energy independence seemed more a pipe dream than a realistic goal.
But the memory of being at the mercy of unfriendly governments stoked American ingenuity, and what was once thought impossible is now within reach. Thanks to expanded domestic oil and natural gas exploration, the United States became a net energy exporter in 2011, according to the Energy Department. And that's with only barely scratching the surface of the immense stores of oil and natural gas on federal lands. Most of the increased production came from exploration and drilling on private lands.
It is hardly surprising then that so many Americans want the country to keep going in this direction. A recent Harris Poll found that 67 percent of registered voters want more offshore drilling, and 77 percent favor more domestic production overall.
Tellingly, 89 percent said that expanding production “could help strengthen America's energy security.” In other words, even among those who do not favor expanding production, an overwhelming majority agree it would make the nation safer.
The American Petroleum Institute, the main industry trade group, commissioned the Harris Poll, so it should be assessed with that fact in mind. That noted, other recent polls have also found strong pro-drilling majorities.
A March 2012 Pew Research poll, for example, found that 65 percent favor allowing more offshore domestic oil and gas drilling. Even a February poll sponsored by the Huffington Post found 58 percent favor offshore drilling, and only 28 percent oppose.
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