Americans Support Continued Protection For Arctic Refuge

Despite a multimillion-dollar campaign to convince lawmakers that they should allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the American public is not buying the oil industry's arguments, according to a new national poll conducted over the past week and released today. The poll, commissioned by the Unified Arctic Campaign, of which Audubon is a member, found that 55% of the American public supports continued protection for the Arctic Refuge, while only 36% favor opening the Refuge to drilling. The Arctic Refuge, a pristine landscape that is home to 250 species including caribou, grizzly bears, musk oxen, threatened polar bears, and tens of thousands of migratory birds, is critical to the Gwich'in people who rely on the Refuge's resources for their subsistence culture. The Refuge has long been the target of drilling advocates, and calls to drill have intensified in recent weeks as gas prices have climbed.

A large majority (74 percent) of those polled said that investing in new energy technology, renewable fuels, and more efficient automobiles is a better way to address energy prices and our long-term needs than is relying on more drilling for a limited amount of oil. According to the poll, only 35 percent of Americans believe that allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will result in lower gas prices for American consumers. A majority (53 percent) believe drilling in the Refuge will have no effect on the price they pay at the gas pump. "Big Oil has spent millions trying to convince the American public that if only Congress would open the Arctic Refuge and other protected lands, gas prices would go down. It's a myth the American people just aren't buying," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

A majority of Americans also believe that the pristine wilderness of the Arctic Refuge is far too valuable to risk the permanent damage that drilling would cause. Some 56 percent of those polled said Congress should not allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because "this is one of the most valuable wilderness areas left in the U.S. and it would be permanently damaged by drilling." According to William H. Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society, "protecting America's public lands and waters for future generations has been a cornerstone of our American values since the first national parks and wildlife refuges were created in the late 1800s. It is extremely gratifying to see that these national values remain strong in the face of the current energy challenges being faced by the American public," Meadows said.

The poll also probed whether opening the Refuge made sense when the oil companies already have obtained the right to drill for oil and gas on millions of acres of federal land that they are not using. Today's poll found that a large majority (68 percent) of Americans believe that there is no reason to open up more Alaskan wilderness to drilling given that oil companies have not drilled in the acres already available to them.

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll, conducted by Washington, D.C., research firm Belden Russonello & Stewart, surveyed 817 adults between June 26 and 30, 2008. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. A copy of the complete survey is attached.
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