Pennsylvanians warm up to fracking – new poll finds

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Nearly a decade into the Marcellus Shale energy boom, Pennsylvanians expressed both overwhelming support and strong environmental misgivings, about fracking — the unconventional drilling technique that has made the state’s expanding energy economy possible.

A poll by The Robert Morris University Polling Institute shows 57.1 percent of Pennsylvanians in support of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Nationally, the figures showed 55.9 percent of Americans hold the same view.

The poll was conducted nationwide last month and included a statistically reliable sampling of Pennsylvania residents. The survey is sponsored by Trib Total Media.

Among those surveyed in Pennsylvania, 74.3 percent said fracking has the potential to help the U.S. economy, a full percentage point higher than the national survey. Among Pennsylvanians polled, 69.9 percent said new drilling technologies that allow fracking “will help move the U.S. to energy independence;” again, a full percentage point higher than the poll’s national figure.

Conversely, although fracking found 3-to-1 support among Pennsylvanians, 60.1 percent of those surveyed also said they strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, “The environmental impact of gas drilling outweighs any resulting reduced energy costs or energy independence.” The poll was conducted before the release of a recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found fracking has not had much impact on drinking water in the United States.

Once again mirroring national results, more Pennsylvanians said they would favor fracking in their own hometowns than the percentage opposed — 48.2 percent to 43.3 percent.

“I think probably the biggest thing you can make of these findings is people want cheap energy and are wiling to accept environmental impacts,” said Tony Kerzmann, a professor of engineering at RMU.

The Pennsylvania results reflect slightly stronger versions of the same opinions as those found in the national portion of the poll. There was one exception: Nationally, 49 percent of those surveyed believe “fracking does cause some earthquakes.” In Pennsylvania, that number is 41.6 percent.

RMU polled nationally two years ago, and this year’s results show both a rising awareness of fracking and increased support for it.

The November 2013 RMU poll found that 42.3 percent of those polled expressed support for fracking compared to 55.9 percent this year. These positions coincide with poll results that also show that 70.7 percent of those polled expressed an awareness of the fracking process, up from 45.1 percent in 2013.

“One of the things we have to realize is that the awareness is mostly industry driven,” said Kerzmann. “I think the fracking awareness and the increase in support go hand-in-hand.”

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