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The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of MichiganThe Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

CLOSUP report: Pennsylvania citizens doubt media, environmentalists, scientists, governor in 'fracking' debate

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pennsylvanians have significant doubts about the credibility of the media, environmental groups and scientists on the issue of natural gas drilling using "fracking" methods, a new poll says.

Those surveyed also believe the state's governor, Tom Corbett, is too closely aligned with companies involved in fracking in Pennsylvania, which is on the frontline of a growing national and international debate about the industry.

The findings raise serious questions about where Pennsylvanians should seek credible information and leadership on an issue that is becoming increasingly important to the state's economy and environment.

The poll, one of the most extensive recent surveys on fracking, was conducted by the Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion in collaboration with the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Although fracking has been done for decades in several states, the process has become more popular in recent years, raising concerns about safety and the environment. Fracking is common in Oklahoma, Texas, New York, Wyoming and Alaska as well as in Canada and Britain.

The process involves injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground. This fractures rock structures and provides access to vast natural gas deposits.

Some have suspicions about the chemicals used and worry about possible groundwater contamination. The Muhlenberg/Michigan poll found that 84 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that drilling companies should have to disclose the chemicals used in fracking.

The survey also found that:

 

  • 44 percent of those polled say they somewhat or strongly agree the media are overstating the environmental impacts of fracking, while 41 percent say they somewhat or strongly disagree.
  • 48 percent say they somewhat or strongly agree that environmental groups are overstating the impacts of the drilling, while 39 percent say they somewhat or strongly agree.
  • 34 percent say they somewhat or strongly agree that scientists are overstating the impacts of fracking, while 42 percent say they somewhat or strongly disagree.

There was also distrust in the government, with 60 percent saying they either strongly or somewhat agreed that natural gas companies have too much influence on Gov. Corbett's decisions about regulating drilling. Only 14 percent say they strongly or somewhat disagree.

Despite the concerns and doubts, 41 percent of those polled say that so far fracking has provided more benefits than problems to Pennsylvania, and 33 percent say it has caused more problems. The survey says 50 percent expect more benefits than problems in the future, while 32 percent expect more problems.

The survey also addresses issues of taxation, regulation and employment in the fracking industry.

The telephone poll, conducted between Oct. 6 and Nov. 2, involved 525 responses from Pennsylvania citizens and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

The survey was funded by Muhlenberg College in collaboration with the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Ford School at U-M.

The report is available online at http://closup.umich.edu.