The Beaver County cracker plant in 2018. The site will refine fracked natural gas into plastic pellets (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).
By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — A clear majority of Pennsylvania voters (55 percent) say they upport the immediate or eventual end of natural gas drilling, also known as fracking, in the commonwealth, according to a recent poll commissioned by the sustainably minded think tank Ohio River Valley Institute.
A quarter of the respondents (25 percent) to the poll conducted by the progressive polling firm Data for Progress say that fracking should end as soon as possible, and another 30% of Pennsylvanians say it should be phased out over time. Only 31% of Pennsylvania voters support maintaining fracking in the state, according to the poll.
For the last several years, fracking has been a political lightning rod in Pennsylvania, particularly the Greater Pittsburgh region, which is home to the most natural gas drilling in the state.
Public squabbles have broken out between fracking allies such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, and skeptics such as state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
Fracking is the process of hydraulic fracturing the earth’s surface in order to extract natural gas, which has led to a flurry of health complications for nearby populations.
The poll, conducted from April 30 to May 16, included the opinions of 647 likely voters — a more statistically reliable sample. It had a margin of error of 4 percent.
Polls about fracking in Pennsylvania over the last few years have been a mixed bag. But none have shown a majority of Pennsylvanians in support of fracking, even though pundits and politicians often frame it that way.
In 2019, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Cook Political Report found that 57% of swing voters in Pennsylvania said a fracking ban was a bad idea, and said 39% of swing voters supported a ban.
But this poll only measured swing voters, not the entire electorate. Another poll taken in August 2020 saw a slim majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking in the state. And a poll from January 2020 revealed more Pennsylvanians support a fracking ban than oppose it, but also showed more voters support the fracking industry than oppose it.
The latest DFP/ORVI poll, which was published in July 2021, appears to be the largest support for ending fracking of any recent poll, though all the polls frame the question of fracking support differently.
Less than half of Pennsylvanians also don’t think any supposed economic benefit derived from fracking outweighs the impacts on community health (42% say it does) or outweigh the environmental costs (43% say it does).
Regulating and restricting fracking have been popular among Pennsylvania voters and remain so, according to the new poll. Voters support requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites by a 76 point margin and 63% of voters support allowing the Pennsylvania Attorney General to prosecute oil and gas companies.
By a margin of 56% to 35%, Pennsylvania voters believe that cities, municipalities, and counties should be able to protect people from fracking if local voters choose to do so.
Even though the Pennsylvania Legislature and recent governors have supported providing large tax breaks and subsidies to fracking companies, the poll shows that those policies are very unpopular.
When asked if fracking companies should receive financial incentives from the state government, 59% of voters opposed and 30% supported.
Even Republican voters, who are generally more supportive of the fracking industry, disagree that fracking companies should receive financial incentives by a 13-point margin. Pennsylvanians also oppose giving financial incentives to petrochemical facilities, like the Beaver County cracker plant, which refine natural gas into plastic pellets. Fifty-one percent of voters opposed petrochemical facilities getting subsidies, while 34% support it.
But there are still some signs of support of the fracking industry and related industries. When asked about industry favor ability, 42% of voters said they view the fracking industry favorable, while 40% said it was unfavorable. The oil and gas industry fared even better with 52% of voters supporting it and 47% of voters viewing it unfavorably.
However, the clean energy industry performed much better, with 69% of voters viewing it favorably, and only 18% viewing it unfavorably.
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.
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