Two separate polls conducted in New York State have found that public opinion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) hasn’t changed much over the past year.

Meanwhile, elected officials in the Village of Owego, located in Tioga County, voted Monday to enact a one-year moratorium on fracking and other related activities.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 44% of respondents oppose fracking in New York, compared to 43% in favor, a statistical tie because both figures lie within the margin of error. Another 13% were undecided.

That’s a small slip from last year, when similar Quinnipiac polls in August and September found New Yorkers supported fracking by 47-42% and 45-41% margins, respectively (see Shale Daily, Sept. 22, 2011, Aug. 15, 2011). A subsequent poll in October also saw slim support for fracking (44-43%), but another in December revealed slim opposition (45-44%).

In the newest Quinnipiac poll, Republicans supported fracking by a 66-23% margin, as did men (52-37%) and whites (46-41%). Conversely, fracking was opposed by Democrats (53-32%), independents (47%-44%), women (50-36%), blacks (48-36%) and Hispanics (52-35%).

The Quinnipiac poll also found most New Yorkers believe fracking will cause environmental damage, 53-12%, although 34% said they weren’t sure. Those numbers are similar to the results of the August 2011 poll, which found that 52% of respondents believed fracking would damage the environment, compared to 15% who said no, and 33% unsure.

Despite those numbers, 75% of New Yorkers believe shale gas development will create jobs in the state, a figure unchanged from August 2011.

“Clearly the people in New York State have their opinions,” Cherie Messore, spokeswoman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. “If you look carefully at some of those statistics, you see there is a large divide between the New York City area and Upstate. The areas that have the most to gain from fracking are a strong base of support, and that has been unchanging.”

Surprisingly, the number of respondents who opposed a new tax on companies drilling in the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale reached a high of 39% in the latest Quinnipiac poll, compared to 47% who supported the tax. Support for such a tax has fallen from August 2011, when the idea was favored 59-29%.

“We need to study that more,” Messore said, indicating that she was also surprised by the result. “That’s something that deserves closer study.”

In May, a Siena College Research Institute poll found that a slim majority, 37-36%, favored fracking, but with a caveat: the poll question asked respondents if they supported letting the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allow fracking to move forward in parts of upstate New York.

“Voters remain divided on hydrofracking,” Don Levy, Siena College Research institute director, said when the results were announced. “Today, voters continue to be split [over] a DEC move to allow fracking in Upstate.”

Respondents to a similar Siena poll in July 2011 also reflected support for fracking, 45-45% (see Shale Daily, July 15, 2011).

The Owego Village Board voted 5-1, with one abstention, on a one-year moratorium on natural gas drilling that uses fracking, and other ancillary and support activities.

“The process needs a lot of looking at,” Owego Mayor Kevin Millar told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. “We need to be very careful to protect the health, safety and financial structure of the village. Fracking has a lot of downside risks for the village with not too many upsides.”

Messore said IOGA was willing to meet with officials in Owego to discuss fracking.

“It’s a moratorium, so they’re going to take a year to study this and receive more information,” Messore said. “We’re always willing to go in and talk to town supervisors, highway supervisors and other town officials and have some good frank talk about the impact that Marcellus Shale drilling would have in their community and the impact that bans and moratoria could have.”

Local governments across the Empire State have already started to choose sides in the fracking debate. Several have adopted a nonbinding resolution created by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York Inc. saying they believe fracking is safe and would be open to have it permitted in their communities (see Shale Daily, May 22).

Tioga is one of five counties in a rumored plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration that would be allowed to have fracking, assuming the DEC gives a favorable regulatory ruling in a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on the practice (see Shale Daily, June 14).