SCRANTON, Pa. — Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly like the natural gas industry and favor taxing it, but are divided about whether the benefits outweigh possible environmental harm, according to a new Franklin & Marshall College poll.
They also strongly oppose opening more state forest land to drilling and think drilling has improved the state’s quality of life.
The poll of 525 Pennsylvania adults was conducted between Aug. 22 and Monday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points, meaning each percentage could actually be that much higher or lower.
When asked if they favor or oppose taxing companies that extract and sell natural gas, almost two-thirds, 65 percent, of adults said they favor taxation, with 45 percent saying they are strongly in favor. Only about two in 10, 21 percent, said they oppose taxation.
And just shy of two-thirds, 66 percent, said they have a favorable view of the industry, with almost a third, 31 percent, saying they have a strongly favorable view.
They were warier when asked to weigh the benefits of drilling against the environmental effects.
The percentage of people who said the benefits of drilling outweigh the environmental damage was barely greater than the percentage who think the opposite: 39 to 35 percent.
More — 35 percent — said drilling improved the quality of life in Pennsylvania than said it reduced the quality of life – 26 percent.
They were especially protective of state forests with almost three quarters, 72 percent, opposing the opening of more of forest land to natural gas drilling, including more than half, 54 percent, strongly opposed. Less than a quarter, 22 percent, at least somewhat favored more forest drilling.
Almost three-quarters, 72 percent, also think any revenues from taxation should be shared by the state and local communities.
The results arrived after months and millions of dollars of television, newspaper and other advertising across the state by the natural gas industry meant to buff its image.
The state General Assembly is expected to take up the question of imposing a tax or fee on the natural gas industry when it returns next month.
Gov. Tom Corbett, who opposed a fee or tax while he ran for office last year, has since opened the door a bit saying he favors using a fee to clean up the environment.
“I think that (poll) shows the ambivalence that people feel about the gas industry,” said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of PennFuture, an environmental group. “When faced with a lot of changes they showed anxiety. I think it captures the reality on the ground.”
Pennsylvanians understand “there are upsides,” Jarrett said.
“They know the upsides have significant costs in some way,” she said. “They would like to see those costs covered by a severance tax.”
Pennsylvanians clearly embrace their state forests and fear they will be harmed, Jarrett said.
“I imagine that extends to state parks,” she said, though the poll did not ask specifically about parks.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a gas industry trade group, issued a statement quoting coalition president Kathryn Klaber, who said the poll shows Pennsylvanians “understand the enormous environmental, economic and national security benefits associated with this historic opportunity before us.”
The poll also shows promoters of shale gas are “engaging in fact-based dialogue with responsible stakeholders across the commonwealth,” Klaber said.