Poll: Public split between clean energy, oil drilling in response to high gas prices

Americans are more likely to agree than to disagree with Democratic calls for renewable energy investment and Republican calls for oil and gas drilling in response to high oil and gas prices, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. But when forced to choose between the two approaches, they are evenly split.

The survey of 1,605 U.S. adults, conducted from April 19-22, found that pluralities of respondents agree with both responses to inflation.

When half of the survey takers were asked whether they agree or disagree with the claim that “the United States should invest in speeding up the transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles and clean sources of energy,” 43% agreed and 34% disagreed, with 23% unsure.

The other half were asked the same question, but were told that Democrats are making that argument. That changed the result only slightly: 45% agreed, 35% disagreed and 20% were unsure.

A wind farm and solar power plant
A wind farm and solar power plant in Kern County, Calif. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The GOP stance provoked a similar response, albeit with slightly stronger support: 52% of respondents agreed that “the United States should make it easier to drill for oil and gas offshore and on land owned by the federal government, and approve more oil and gas pipelines.” Twenty-five percent disagreed, with the remainder unsure.

When told that Republicans are promoting the approval of more oil and gas drilling leases and pipelines, support was slightly diminished: 49% were in support, versus 30% opposed.

The results may indicate that an “all of the above” energy strategy that combined renewable energy investment and increased fossil fuel extraction would win majority support. However, when asked which approach they prefer, the public was evenly divided: 31% favored drilling, 29% favored renewables and just 20% said both.

Asked to choose which of 10 issues is the “the biggest problem facing America today,” 6% of respondents chose gas prices, whereas 33% chose inflation and 11% chose climate change.

With the price of oil and natural gas spiking in the wake of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the already contentious issue of energy policy has become even more divisive.

Natural gas is flared off during an oil drilling operation
Natural gas is flared off during an oil drilling operation in Midland, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

President Biden has proposed spending $550 billion over 10 years on subsidies for wind and solar energy and electric vehicle deployment. An independent study found that those measures would reduce U.S. oil consumption by more than twice the amount that the country imports from Russia. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed that agenda as part of a larger package of domestic spending, but unified Republican opposition and the reluctance of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin from the coal- and gas-rich state of West Virginia has it stymied in the Senate.

Congressional Republicans and conservative pundits have argued that Biden has contributed to high energy prices by halting the sale of new leases to drill oil and gas offshore and on federal land. But energy experts say that because it takes years for a lease to yield oil, only one-quarter of U.S. oil production is in federal territory and oil is traded globally, current leasing has no effect on current prices.

Climate scientists also note that increasing the supply of fossil fuels in five or 10 years, when new leases yield production, conflicts with the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

Biden has instead used more immediate measures to decrease gasoline prices, such as releasing 60 billion barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a U.S. government complex of four sites along the Gulf Coast. Last week, however, the Biden administration sold new oil and gas drilling leases due to a federal court injunction.


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