Two years ago most New Jersey residents supported oil and gas drilling in the state’s coastal waters, but the three-month-old BP plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have changed their minds, according to poll results released last Wednesday.

Only 31% of New Jersey residents support oil/gas drilling off the state’s coast; 63% oppose drilling. Two years ago 56% favored drilling while 36% were opposed. Some in the state worry that oil sloshing about in the Gulf of Mexico could wind up on their shores, the Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Press Media Poll found.

“New Jersey has historically been concerned with environmental issues and the specter of anything washing up on our beaches may heighten anxiety over offshore drilling,” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth’s Polling Institute. “The fact that concern is the same for coastal and inland residents may speak to how much all New Jerseyans value our shore as a state asset.”

More than half of the residents polled said they thought remnants of the BP oil spill could wash up on their shores; 17% said it is “very likely,” and 36% said it is “somewhat likely.”

While the oil spill has dampened enthusiasm for offshore oil and gas drilling, it has not given a boost to wind or nuclear energy, the poll found. Eighty percent of respondents favor placing windmills off the New Jersey coast, compared to 82% in 2008. Thirty-seven percent support building another nuclear plant in the state, compared to 41% in 2008.

Only 25% of those polled approve of the federal government’s handling of the spill. Fifty-nine percent said the spill indicates that there are “significant safety problems” with offshore drilling. “Only 36% view this as an isolated incident that does not suggest there are fundamental problems with such drilling activity,” Monmouth/Gannett said.

“When asked to choose between two priorities for U.S. energy policy, more New Jerseyans would emphasize protecting the environment (55%) over keeping energy prices low (28%).”

The telephone poll reached 801 adult respondents from July 7 to 11. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.

Farther south, fallout from the oil spill in Florida was not enough to allow Gov. Charlie Crist to power through the legislature a constitutional ban on offshore drilling near the state’s coast. The state’s Republican-led legislature adjourned a special session last Tuesday before considering the ban.

Crist, who has been a Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent; his views on offshore drilling have helped to win him favor with Democrats.

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