Americans value energy security over action on climate change, a view that translates into wide support for the Keystone XL pipeline, a new poll suggests.
"Americans are obsessed over a stable supply of energy," said Canadian pollster Nik Nanos, who conducted the research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
"They see reduction of greenhouse gases as important, but when they look at an issue like the Keystone XL pipeline, they look at it in terms of what it means for a stable supply of energy," he said in an interview Sunday.
In a poll released Monday, Mr. Nanos surveyed 1,007 Americans and 1,013 Canadians to elicit their views on energy and environmental issues and on the controversial pipeline. His results are accurate within 3.1 percentage points.
TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels per day of Alberta bitumen to the refining hub on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Supporters say it will displace imports from Venezuela and other suppliers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), while opponents argue it will lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta's expanding oil sands sector.
In Mr. Nanos' poll, some 63 per cent of U.S. respondents said it is more important to eliminate imported oil from outside North America than it is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Consistent with that view, 74 per cent of surveyed Americans voiced support for approval of the Keystone XL project, which is now under review by the Obama administration.
The U.S. State Department has a Monday deadline for comments on its draft environmental-impact statement, which argued the pipeline in itself would not contribute to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The department will then finalize its environmental review and conduct a broader "national interest" assessment, including how the pipeline would contribute to U.S. energy security. It will then submit a recommendation for a final decision by President Barack Obama – likely towards the end of the summer.
Environmentalists have slammed the State Department for its refusal to extend the comment period, and not releasing supporting documentation.
The government's approach "has undermined the integrity of the review process," said Anthony Swift, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes Keystone XL.
Mr. Swift questioned the value of polling that shows broad approval for the Keystone XL project. He said while support may be broad, it is shallow given that most Americans have only a peripheral understanding of the issues.
"Most people who support the project actually know very little about it," he said. "We find that, as knowledge increases, so too does opposition."
Mr. Nanos said the Keystone debate has received much coverage in the United States, and most Americans welcome the additional Canadian energy supply the pipeline would bring.
"This is the most famous pipeline we have seen in North America in a long time," he said. Over the past four years, it has generated more than 1,079 newspaper articles, which in total reached more than 400-million readers.