04/22/2013 12:43 EDT | Updated 06/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Energy security trumps environmental concerns, poll indicates

Canadians and Americans are more concerned about securing the continent's energy needs than they are about environmental concerns over fossil fuels, a new poll suggests.

That's the finding of a recent poll completed by Nik Nanos as part of a scholar-in-residence program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

The poll consisted of interviewing 1,007 Americans and 1,013 Canadians for their views on energy and the environment. A polling sample of that size is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Some 63 per cent of American respondents said they favoured reducing oil imports from outside North America as a policy priority from governments, compared to 30 per cent who thought reducing greenhouse gases was more important.

The poll's results suggest the appetite to focus on having North America free from importing oil from outside North America trumps reducing greenhouse gases as a policy priority by a factor of 2 to 1 in the U.S.

In Canada, the figures dropped slightly — with 55 per cent of Canadians saying energy security is important, versus 38 per cent who prioritized environmental issues.

"The research indicates that although both Americans and Canadians believe that reducing greenhouse gases is important, energy security, particularly in the U.S., is driving views on energy issues," Nanos said.

The results were broadly consistent among the many questions asked.

Some 76 per cent of American poll respondents (and 66 per cent of Canadians) said they supported a "continent-wide energy strategy," while even higher numbers — 85 per cent in the U.S. and 78 per cent in Canada — said it was important to have environmental policies that are consistent across the continent.

The poll was released against the backdrop of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project, which is awaiting final approval from the U.S. government. If given the final OK, Keystone XL will pump more than 800,000 barrels per day of Alberta bitumen, across several U.S. states, to be processed at refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Nanos poll didn't focus on the Keystone question, but it was addressed to a smaller extent. Respondents found broad support for the project. Seventy per cent of Americans and 60 per cent of Canadians said they had a positive or somewhat positive view of the project.