Public support for tapping America's oil reserves got a tough test over the last few months with the Deepwater Horizon spill, but the verdict is in: It's "drill, baby, drill!"
A clear majority continued to support drilling in American waters even during the height of the spill, when oil was gushing uncontrollably and dying birds headlined network newscasts. Pollsters at Rasmussen reported on Aug. 4 that "since the oil-rig explosion that caused the massive oil leak, support for offshore drilling has ranged from 56 percent to 64 percent." That's fairly consistent with the percentages in April of this year, just before the spill, and not a huge drop-off from the 72 percent that supported it back in the summer of 2008, when pump prices topped $4 a gallon.
Now that the leak has been stopped, the number in favor should start creeping back up. Support was always strongest in Louisiana -- which bore the brunt of the environmental and economic damage -- where 79 percent of residents remained in favor of drilling in Rassmussen's numbers, the same as before the spill.
President Obama clearly overplayed his hand with Louisianians and other Gulf Coast residents when his administration tried to parlay the spill into a justification for a moratorium on offshore drilling and other job-killing measures, such as the cap-and-trade global-warming tax on energy. The bayou backlash against the moratorium -- including from Louisiana Democrats in Congress -- was deafening.
Looking forward, the biggest threat to the Gulf region's economy isn't the spill itself but Washington's reaction to it. According to a study by Louisiana State University economics Professor Joseph Mason, the moratorium will destroy 12,000 jobs in the near term and 36,000 if it lasts a year. As the Gulf region loses jobs, the rest of the nation is losing the energy that would have been produced.
Gulf Coast residents were right not to overreact. Despite Obama's best efforts to hype the spill, including a prime-time speech calling it "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced," the damage has proved to be far from catastrophic.
The scariest claims turned out to be nonsense. Remember those "experts" who predicted that the oil would make its way around Florida and blacken the Atlantic Coast?
As cleanup activities and efforts to compensate those who've been harmed move forward, there is reason for cautious optimism about the long-term prospects for recovery. The Gulf shrimp is just as safe to eat -- and as tasty -- as before the spill.
The administration is still pushing the moratorium, but its gloomy rhetoric -- echoed by nearly every anti-fossil-fuel environmental group -- may undercut its own efforts. If the Deepwater Horizon spill really was the absolute worst that could happen, then the benefits of producing American oil sure seem worth the risks. Spills of this magnitude occur only once every few decades. We'll more likely see a return of gas at $4 a gallon -- or higher -- long before we see another spill this big.
Washington can and should find out what caused the spill and impose reasonable safeguards, but it shouldn't close the door on tapping the nation's oil resources. The American people have had it right all along: Drill, baby, drill!