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Ohio Voters Wishy-Washy on Shale

Ohio voters believe the benefits of shale gas development outweigh the risks, but they also believe the state should put the breaks on development, according to a new poll.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted Jan. 9-16 found that 64% of respondents believe the economic boom promised by natural gas development outweighs any environmental concerns. While 85% believed drilling would create jobs in Ohio, 72% said the state should halt hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) activities until more is known about the process. Asked if hydrofracking would damage the environment, 43% said "yes" and 40% said they didn't know.

The poll was conducted after state officials ordered Northstar Disposal Services LLC to halt operations at a wastewater disposal well in Youngstown, OH, following concerns that wastewater injections from hydrofracking operations may have triggered seismic activity last year (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4).

"Ohio voters are conflicted on hydrofracking," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "They recognize the economic value of drilling for fossil fuels in the state, but are worried about potential environmental risks of the specific technique -- hydrofracking."

While Republicans generally favored drilling more than Democrats, the poll found relatively equal response rates from both parties when it came to the economic benefits of development. Republicans, however, are less likely than Democrats to believe that hydrofracking would cause environmental harm.

The 64% figure is nearly identical to the results of a Quinnipiac poll conducted in October in neighboring Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, Oct. 4, 2011). The survey of 1,610 registered voters is believed to the first statewide poll in Ohio on shale development. The margin of error is 2.4 percentage points.

Considering the results, it isn't surprising that Gov. John Kasich wants an impact fee on drilling, as well as a revision to Ohio's severance tax. "We have to make sure we have impact fees," Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch. "At some point, these counties are going to benefit, but in the early years, when it comes to the erosion of roads and infrastructure, we need to make sure that these locals are going to be in a position to manage their infrastructure."

The proposed tax revision suggested by Kasich would add natural gas liquids -- believed to be in abundance in the Utica Shale in Ohio -- to the roster of taxed resources.

In a report to be released soon, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association plans to show that the current tax structure would bring an additional $1 billion in annual tax revenue to Ohio and its local governments by 2015.

However, a report by Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization, said the state could generate $538 million in revenues by 2015 by increasing its oil and natural gas severance taxes (see Shale Daily, Dec. 21, 2011).

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