New F&M poll: Pennsylvania voters split on fracking

A Marcellus shale gas-drilling site along PA Route 87, Lycoming County. Nicholas A. Tonelli | Flickr Commons

Pennsylvania voters are split nearly down the middle on an environmental issue that could be vital in the 2020 presidential election. 

Registered voters in the Keystone State have no clear consensus on the costs and benefits of natural gas extraction, including the hydraulic drilling technique known as fracking, results from a new Franklin & Marshall poll show.

The poll, which surveyed 628 registered voters over six days in January, found that 48 percent of voters support shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania, compared with 44 percent who oppose it. 

The poll’s 6-percent margin of error makes the difference between the two factions statistically insignificant.

Even though almost half of poll respondents say they support Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry, a near equal number of them — 49 percent — think its environmental risks outweigh its economic benefits. 

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Only 38 percent of surveyed voters believe that the economic benefits outweigh environmental concerns.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry says the natural gas industry supports between 20,000 and 50,000 jobs across the state. But Pennsylvanians are split on whether or not the industry hurts or helps their communities. 

Among the voters who Franklin & Marshall polled, 35 percent said drilling improves the quality of life in communities where it takes place, while 38 percent said it reduces it. 

One of the most common drilling techniques in Pennsylvania involves hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — an extraction method with risks that include water pollution, air pollution, and soil contamination, as well as increased risks of earthquakes and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Pennsylvania’s fracking industry is heavily concentrated in the southwest corner and Northern tier of the state, according to StateImpact PA, an NPR project dedicated to environmental reporting.

The future of the industry may be a key issue in the Democratic presidential primary, since two candidates — U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt,  and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — have called for nationwide fracking bans. 

Franklin & Marshall found that 48 percent of voters favor a ban on fracking, compared with 39 percent who oppose it.

Those figures may call into question statements reported by the New York Times this week, Pennsylvania politicians said a proposed fracking ban could be politically lethal for Democratic presidential contenders hoping to carry the Keystone State.

Pennsylvanians will vote in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, April 28.

The most recent Franklin & Marshall poll surveyed 628 registered Pennsylvania voters from Jan. 20 – 26. The sample included 292 registered Democrats, 251 Republicans and 85 independents and had a margin of error of 6.2 percent.