Surveys show increasing support for ANWR drilling

The Pew poll found 46 percent of Democrats now favor increased energy exploration, a 16 percentage point increase

Record-high gasoline prices are causing Americans to rethink their opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other federal areas, according to several recent surveys.

A nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center shows half of Americans now support drilling in ANWR, up from 42 percent five months ago.

And a poll released Thursday found 73 percent of Americans favor exploration for oil and gas off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

The public’s changing energy priorities are most evident in the growing percentage that views increased energy exploration — including mining and drilling, as well as the construction of new power plants — as a more important priority for energy policy than increased conservation and regulation.

The Pew poll found 47 percent of Americans consider expanded energy exploration in general more important than energy conservation and price regulation, up from 35 percent in February. The number who believe conservation and price regulation are more important dropped 10 percentage points to 45 percent from the previous Pew survey five months ago.

Support for energy exploration is at its highest level in a decade, as the rising price of a barrel of oil shows no sign of slowing its ascent toward the $150 mark.

The price of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed above $145 a barrel before the Fourth of July holiday. The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in Alaska was $4.59 a gallon, $1.50 more than a year ago, according to the motorist group AAA.

In Fairbanks, drivers paid as much as $4.62 a gallon last week for regular unleaded gasoline.

The change in attitude is most noticeable among Democrats, independents and young people, who in the past have tended to favor conservation over development.

The Pew poll found 46 percent of Democrats now favor increased energy exploration, a 16 percentage point increase. Some 46 percent of women polled also said they support greater exploration for domestic resources, an 18 percent increase compared to a few months ago.

A full 51 percent of people ages 18 to 29 say expanded exploration is more important than conservation and regulation, compared to only 26 percent in February.