Pennsylvanians are narrowly split on whether the benefits of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are worth the potential risks, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA.

The opinions uncovered in the survey “reflect uncertainty about [fracking] and the state’s regulatory response to the developing shale gas industry,” MCAP researchers said.

“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. Pennsylvanians believe the potential economic benefits of gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale formation are substantial, but are evenly divided on the potential costs of the activity for the environment and human health.”

The survey results were based on interviews of 426 adult Pennsylvanians who were already aware of fracking, conducted between Sept. 19 and Oct. 7. A screening question used to include only those already aware of fracking found that about 70% of Pennsylvanians have heard about the process. Of those, 55% said they favor the use of fracking to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, while 27% oppose it and 18% answered “depends” or “don’t know.” But there was far less support for fracking in state forests, with 57% of respondents saying they oppose it, MCAP said.

More than half (54%) of respondents said they believe fracking poses “a significant threat” to water resources, but they were split over whether it poses a threat to the environment (43% said it does pose a significant threat; 42% said it does not) or human health (44% said it does pose such a threat; 37% said it does not). Slim pluralities said the potential benefits of fracking outweigh the potential risks.

Majorities agreed that “more regulations are needed” in the Marcellus (67%) and that companies working the Marcellus don’t “truly care about protecting the environment” (60%). A significant majority (73%) said Marcellus Shale gas should be taxed. At the same time, 55% said Marcellus gas extraction — whether it is taxed or not — will “significantly help” Pennsylvania’s financial situation; 62% believe that gas extraction has brought “a significant number” of new jobs to Pennsylvania; 59% believe that it will “significantly increase” the nation’s energy independence; and 66% believe that a “significant number” of private landowners are “making a lot of money” leasing land to gas companies.

The MCAP survey follows 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). Another Quinnipiac University survey recently found that voters in neighboring New York support drilling in the Marcellus by a thin margin, 45-41%, because they believe the economic benefits outweigh environmental concerns (see Shale Daily, Sept. 22).

The MCAP survey covered a variety of issues, including economics, the environment and the state’s juvenile justice system.