The American Petroleum Institute on Wednesday released polling results showing strong public support for the Keystone XL pipeline, the same day environmental advocates began staging protests against the project.
Of respondents contacted by phone Feb. 5-10 by Harris Interactive, 69 percent said they supported construction of the pipeline, compared to 17 percent who opposed it.
An equal percentage said they supported importing more oil from Canada if the U.S. continued to rely on foreign sources. Even bigger majorities agreed with statements of support for greater use of Canadian oil, the construction of more pipelines from Canada to U.S. refineries, and that the Keystone XL project would improve U.S. energy security.
The poll, of 1,001 registered voters, had a margin of error of 3 percent.
"The public overwhelmingly supports this project," API President Jack Gerard told reporters during a conference call. He reiterated his call for Obama to terminate the State Department's current environmental and national interest reviews of the pipeline and to approve it immediately.
Gerard declined to handicap the odds of approval by Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week only that he hoped to make a decision on the project soon, but gave no update on the department's progress toward a final environmental impact statement or national interest determination.
Gerard also sought to undercut a rumor that a deal was being offered by Obama to pair approval of the $5.3 billion project with passage by Congress of a market price on carbon.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama called again on lawmakers to enact a market-based mechanism to reduce carbon emissions, though he stopped short of reviving his support for cap-and-trade.
"I'm not sure there has been a quid pro quo request. I've not heard of any quid pro quo," Gerard said. AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Department President Sean McGarvey, who joined Gerard on the call, also said he had heard "nothing about a quid pro quo."
The Harris poll did not present arguments to respondents by opponents, however. They contend the pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska would add to climate change by bringing heavy oil sands crude to the world market. Harris also did not ask them to rate concerns by landowners and activists that the line itself would threaten drinking water sources in Nebraska.
API issued the poll just hours after Sierra Club President Michael Brune was arrested outside the White House in the group's first-ever act of civil disobedience. He was among a group of 48 who were arrested that included 350.org founder Bill McKibben, former NAACP President Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, among others.
Their protest came as those groups and others prepare to rally activists on Sunday in Washington against approval of the pipeline. Brune and McKibben were also slated to appear with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Thursday at a press conference to introduce a bill to impose a carbon fee on major emissions sources.
"We cannot afford to allow the production, transport, export and burning of the dirtiest oil on Earth via the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama must deny the pipeline and take decisive steps to address climate disruption, the most significant issue of our time," Brune said in a joint statement issued Wednesday by the group.