PITTSBURGH (AP) — A significant majority of people in Pennsylvania support the boom in Marcellus shale natural gas drilling, according to a new poll released Thursday, but many also have concerns about its environmental impacts.
The Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 64 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly favor the gasdrilling industry, compared to 27 percent who somewhat or strongly oppose it. But 37 percent also felt that potential environmental risks could outweigh the economic benefits of drilling, and 68 percent somewhat or strongly oppose drilling in state-owned forests.
Poll director G. Terry Madonna said what struck him most about the results is "the stability in the response over the last couple of years."
"There's a consistent narrative," Madonna said. "The voters of the state say, yep, we like the natural gas folks, but we want it done environmentally safely."
Over the last few years the industry and anti-drilling groups have both waged fierce campaigns to sway public views on the drilling issue. But Madonna said the lack of major shifts in opinion is partly because "for most Pennsylvanians Marcellus shale drilling is not a fact of their daily lives. They don't live in regions where drilling is done."
Dave Spigelmyer, the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said the results show a clear majority of Pennsylvanians "support responsible shale development."
David Masur, the director of PennEnvironment, an environmental group, said he wasn't surprised by the poll, given that issues such as jobs and education are top priorities for many people. Masur said he's encouraged that gas drilling is "on the short list" of people's concerns.
Overall, the broad issue of protecting the state's environment came in fourth among top priorities for voters.
One question suggested that many people are still uncertain about the impacts of the natural gas boom. When asked whether drilling "has improved or reduced the quality of life" in communities where it's taking place, 37 percent said they don't know, while 38 percent said they were somewhat or strongly improved, and 26 percent said somewhat or strongly reduced.
The Marcellus Shale formation lies under large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and some neighboring states, and it's become the nation's most productive natural gas field over the last five years.
The poll was conducted from Jan. 22 to 27 and involved 580 registered voters.