Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline might be a divisive issue on Capitol Hill, but it's almost a slam dunk with the American public, according to a new poll released Tuesday
Two-thirds of Americans favor building the controversial 1,179-mile pipeline according to the Pew Center for People & the Press, which surveyed more than 1,500 adults in March. Less than a quarter of respondents (23 percent) opposed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada's oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Despite the strong public support, the decision to approve or block the pipeline will be a tough one for the Obama administration, especially if the president hopes to keep his liberal base happy.
"It's a difficult issue for Obama, because the democratic base is on the other side of this issue," says Carroll Doherty, associate director at Pew Research. "This appears to be one of those issues that really divides Democrats."
But experts say rosy public reception of pipeline plans could turn sour in the wake of high-profile oil spills last week, which dumped thousands of gallons of oil in Minnesota and Arkansas. The accidents have riled up critics of the pipeline, who argue that incidents such as these would be magnified many times over if they were to occur with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
"As the federal government considers TransCanada's application for Keystone XL, the Pegasus tar sands spill brings the real costs of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into sharp relief for the American public," Anthony Swift, attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council's international program, said in a statement.
But while the public generally stands behind the construction of Keystone, Americans are less keen on new technologies cropping up in the oil and gas industries. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has oil developers to tap into massive amounts of natural gas and oil found in shale formations across the country, reframing the way the country thinks about its energy future.
But fracking has also riled up it's fair share of critics who argue the practice – which involves pumping large amounts of a pressurized mixture of water and sand down a well head – has the potential to contaminate groundwater, destabilize land surrounding wellheads, and increase air pollution due to heightened truck traffic.
Almost half of Americans (48 percent) still supported fracking, while 38 percent opposed it, but divisions were much more apparent when examined through the lens of gender, region, and political affiliation.
Women were almost evenly split with 41 percent supporting increased used of fracking and 42 percent in opposition. Men supported the practice in higher numbers with 55 percent supporting fracking and 34 percent against.
Twice as many Republicans (66 percent) as Democrats (33 percent) favored the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, while 51 percent of independents endorsed it. Regionally, there was much less support for fracking in the Northeast (37 percent) and West, than in the Midwest (55 percent) and the South (52 percent).
"[Fracking] is obviously an issue that has resonated with partisans and it's somewhat of a regional issue," Doherty says.