Oil Spill Could Turn Americans Off Offshore Drilling Industry lobbyists and environmentalists say major ecological damage along the Gulf Coast from last week's oil rig blast could jeopardize President Obama's recent proposal to expand offshore drilling. About two-thirds of Americans support the idea of allowing more offshore drilling.
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Oil Spill Could Turn Americans Off Offshore Drilling

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Oil Spill Could Turn Americans Off Offshore Drilling

Oil Spill Could Turn Americans Off Offshore Drilling

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, most Americans have supported the idea of increased offshore oil drilling. Just weeks ago, President Obama proposed opening the Atlantic coast and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, but last week's oil spill could put that plan in jeopardy. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

SARAH PALIN: We will drill here and drill now.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PALIN: Drill, baby, drill.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Sarah Palin touched a nerve with this battle cry in the 2008 presidential campaign. It didn't just resonate with the Republicans. Recent polls show about two-thirds of Americans, including the majority of Democrats, support allowing more offshore drilling. A month ago, President Obama endorsed the idea, but in a more reserved way than Palin did.

BARACK OBAMA: This announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.

SHOGREN: The Sierra Club's Athan Manuel says offshore oil drilling wasn't always popular.

ATHAN MANUEL: Well, for years and years and years, I think, the public associated offshore drilling with pollution and the risk to the environment and coastal economies. But all those concerns flipped, certainly, when the price of a gallon of gas hit four dollars two years ago, and that was a primary driver on a lot of public opinion on offshore drilling.

SHOGREN: The politics of offshore oil drilling were looking so good that environmental activists had agreed to some additional drilling in a sweeping climate change bill. But Manuel thinks that may change.

MANUEL: Our hope is that this spill kind of makes everybody comes to their senses.

SHOGREN: One big reason for the growing public acceptance was that for two decades there had not been any large-scale accidents. The same day the president announced his plan, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum told MSNBC that administration officials were persuaded that the industry can drill offshore with modern equipment without endangering the environment.

MARVIN ODUM: They wouldn't be saying that if they weren't looking at the hundreds of millions of dollars of studies that the U.S. government did to answer the question, can it be done safely there?

SHOGREN: So, after this spill, is that still the case?

BENNETT JOHNSTON: Well, obviously, it is not.

SHOGREN: Former Louisiana Senator J. Bennett Johnston now lobbies for oil companies.

JOHNSTON: I mean, they were saying this couldn't happen and this happened.

SHOGREN: Johnston says it's impossible to say yet, whether the public will keep supporting offshore drilling. That will depend on how much the spill hurts wildlife, the fragile marsh ecology and the beaches along the Gulf Coast.

JOHNSTON: It could be very, very bad or it could just bad. And I think the public will not react that badly if it's not catastrophic. If it is catastrophic, we'll have to wait and see.

SHOGREN: Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: We'll be following the Gulf oil spill as the story develops, and you can get our latest updates by using the NPR News app, which is available on most mobile devices.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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