Americans in 73% Majority Oppose Ban on Deepwater Oil Drilling

The Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon oil rig
The Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon in Sept. 2009. Source: Transocean Ltd. via Bloomberg

Most Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in response to BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill, even as they hold the company primarily responsible for the incident.

Almost three-fourths, or 73 percent, say a ban is unnecessary, calling the worst oil spill in U.S. history a “freak accident,” according to a Bloomberg National Poll. Barely more than a third say they support drilling less than they did a few months ago. The BP rig sank in April. The administration issued a new moratorium this week after a court rejected a six-month one imposed in May.

“A ban will destroy the economy in that area over nothing,” said poll respondent Ron Smallcomb, 64, a used-car dealer in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania. “This is crazy. If there’s a plane crash you don’t ground all the airlines and stop flying completely.”

Eight in 10 of those questioned in the July 9-12 poll say London-based BP should pay for all damage caused by the spill. Six in 10 say BP, not the federal government, should reimburse wages lost by oil workers laid off because of the moratorium, with 56 percent saying even the possibility of bankruptcy shouldn’t allow the company to escape paying.

Asked who was most to blame for the spill, 44 percent say BP, and 19 percent say lax federal regulations and oversight. One in five say no one is to blame.

“It’s their fault,” Dan Urban, 45, an unemployed restaurant manager in Las Vegas, said of BP. “They are ultimately responsible for what they did whether they go bankrupt or not.”

‘Economic Catastrophe’

While public objections to a drilling ban echo the views of Republican leaders such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the sentiment is strong regardless of political leaning: 85 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of independents and 65 percent of Democrats oppose a ban, according to the poll.

Jindal, whose state has been hardest hit by the spill, says a prohibition on drilling is an overreaction that will turn an “environmental disaster into an economic catastrophe,” costing as many as 20,000 jobs in Louisiana alone.

“We need the federal government to do their jobs to ensure drilling is done safely without killing thousands of jobs for our people,” Jindal said in a statement July 13.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says a ban is a reasonable response to the crisis. “Industry must raise the bar on its practices and answer fundamental questions about deepwater safety,” he said in a statement on July 12.

Not ‘Impending Doom’

“The fact so many people say it was a freak accident is especially telling,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based company that conducted the telephone survey. “People say BP must pay, but there’s no sense of impending doom at the hands of the entire industry.”

The length of the spill, now in its 84th day, may explain why there’s not a broader sense of outrage, she said.

“Perhaps because it’s gone on so long there’s a sense that it is what it is,” Selzer said. “BP is accountable for what they are accountable for, but any sense of vindication you might look to find is absent.”

The Bloomberg National Poll is based on interviews with 1,004 U.S. adults ages 18 or older. Percentages based on the full sample may have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Making BP pay for the economic damages from the spill even at the risk of bankruptcy is backed by 61 percent of respondents who said they are Democrats, and 54 percent of both Republicans and independents.

‘Accidents Happen’

Eight in 10 of those questioned say BP shouldn’t be assessed penalties beyond payment for damages, such as being banned from future drilling in the U.S. The House Natural Resources Committee yesterday approved an amendment that would bar the company from new offshore leases in the U.S.

“I totally expect them to pay for the damages done, but to ban BP or other companies from future drilling is ridiculous,” said John P. Sennet, 65, a retired manager from AK Steel Corp. in Middletown, Ohio. “I just don’t understand the logic in that -- accidents happen,” he said.

While 73 percent of Democrats say BP should pay for the wages of rig workers laid off because of the drilling moratorium, Republicans are evenly split, with 42 percent saying BP should pay and the same number saying the government should.

BP has allocated $100 million to pay for the missed wages of workers idled by the drilling ban. That money is separate from a $20 billion fund BP has created to cover economic damages caused by the spill.

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