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Survey: Pennsylvanians See Drilling's Upside

Pennsylvanians believe that the benefits of natural gas drilling in the state's shale plays outweigh any potential problems, but want the state to impose an extraction tax and require the disclosure of chemicals used by drillers, according to the results of a survey by the Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion and the University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy.

"While fairly divided on this matter, more Pennsylvanians believe that natural gas drilling has thus far provided more benefits than problems for Pennsylvania," the researchers said. "A large number anticipate greater future benefits than problems for the state." Of the 525 Pennsylvania residents who participated in the telephone survey last month, 41% said natural gas drilling has provided greater benefits than problems; 33% said it had provided more problems than benefits and 26% said the benefits and problems were about equal. And 50% of respondents said they believe drilling will provide more benefits than problems in the future, while only 32% believe the problems will outweigh benefits in the future.

A majority of respondents believe that the state should tax natural gas extraction and require the disclosure of fracking fluid contents. "In terms of the overall concept of an extraction tax, Pennsylvanians offer broad support, with nearly three out of four indicating that firms extracting natural gas in the commonwealth should pay a tax," the researchers said. A full 70% of respondents said they would support using revenue from a natural gas tax to repair roads and bridges; 66% said they would support spending the revenue to repair and protect the environment; 62% would support spending the revenue to develop renewable energy sources; and 59% would support spending the revenue to help local governments address problems caused by drilling.

Survey results indicate that 91% of respondents believe that drilling companies should have to disclose chemicals they use in drilling "because of the public's right to know about the health risks posed by these chemicals."

And the survey found that Pennsylvanians "have significant doubts about the credibility of the media, environmental groups and scientists" when it comes to fracking, and believe that Gov. Tom Corbett "is too closely aligned with the preferences of energy extraction groups" on the issue. Approximately 60% of respondents said they believe that Corbett's decisions on taxation and regulation of gas drilling are influenced by natural gas companies.

The survey found that a significant majority (54%) of Pennsylvanians "strongly agree" that the state's natural gas reserves are a public resource, while only 13% feel that those reserves "are a private resource and should benefit private energy developers and land owners."

Another recent survey found Pennsylvanians narrowly split on whether the benefits of fracking are worth the potential risks (see Shale Daily, Oct. 13). "While Pennsylvanians are generally supportive of gas extraction through fracking, they have concerns about where it occurs and the regulatory framework that ensures it is done safely," according to researchers at Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. A recent Quinnipiac University poll, which found that while most Pennsylvania voters believe the economic benefits of drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale outweigh any environmental concerns, a majority also want to see the industry taxed (see Shale Daily, Oct. 4).

Consumers across the country favored natural gas over renewables and other forms of energy when it comes to expansion, something an overwhelming majority of consumers also say would create badly needed jobs in a struggling economy, according to a survey conducted by the nonprofit American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research (see Shale Daily, Oct. 14).

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