There were further indications recently of a sea change in public attitudes toward offshore drilling when a public opinion poll sample in Massachusetts, a bastion of liberalism and environmentalism, indicated that a majority of state residents favored drilling off their New England coast.

The poll, conducted by Suffolk University in Massachusetts and the Boston Globe, showed that 58% of participants supported drilling in restricted areas off the Massachusetts coast.

An even larger number, 63%, said they favored drilling in restricted areas of Alaska and off the coasts of Florida and California. The poll was conducted from Sept. 22-24 and includes answers from 400 residents across the state. The poll mainly contained questions about residents’ perceptions of the general economic situation. The favorable margin for offshore drilling was spurred by higher prices for gasoline and heating oil. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.

It has been noted, however, that there is strong opposition from fishing interests to drilling along the Georges Bank off New England and Nova Scotia, which would be a prime target for oil and gas.

Previously there have been indications that residents farther south, in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, might support some type of drilling off their coasts. Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint introduced legislation last week to permanently erase the bans on oil and natural gas drilling on the federal Outer Continental Shelf and on oil shale development in the Intermountain West.

And in August a coalition of five Senate Republicans and five Democrats — known as the “Gang of 10” — unveiled comprehensive, bipartisan legislation proposing to open additional Gulf of Mexico areas and allow the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia to opt into leasing off their shores. The bill, however, would put the oil and gas activity beyond 50 miles out, which likely would limit producer interest (see Daily GPI, Aug. 4).

None of this, including the fact that the decades-old moratorium on offshore oil and natural gas drilling and one-year ban on oil shale development in the Intermountain West was allowed to expire this year, has made much impression on producers. For one thing, a Democratic Congress and administration would likely seek to reinstate the ban in some form (see Daily GPI, Sept. 30). Also, the financial and credit crisis, the crash in oil prices and downturn in natural gas prices do not make an attractive backdrop for long-term, high risk ventures at sea.

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