A Franklin & Marshall poll found Pennsylvania voters are split in their views on the natural gas industry — largely on the basis of geography, age, and other demographics.
About half of the 628 registered voters surveyed said they support the industry — while the same amount say they’d be in favor of a fracking ban like those in Maryland and New York. A ban is favored by Democratic presidential candidates senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who this week in the Senate introduced a bill to ban fracking. Legal experts generally agree a president cannot ban fracking on private or state land without an act of Congress.
“I think there’s a lot of people that still see benefits to this, particularly for rural communities,” said Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research of Franklin & Marshall College.
“And then there’s a lot of people that are on the other side thinking that, you know, it’s just not worth it, environmentally,” he said.
Yost said young people were more likely to favor a ban on fracking, a controversial technique that has vaulted Pennsylvania to the No. 2 gas-producing state in the country at the same time as it has aroused fears of public health problems from pollution.
Yost said the results also break down by gender. “A majority of females support such a ban. A majority of males do not.”
One of the strongest signals from the poll, Yost said, is that opinions on fracking vary widely between urban, rural and suburban voters.
“The strongest support in the state for banning fracking comes from residents of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” Yost said.
Opposition to a fracking ban was strongest in the counties outside of Pittsburgh — where much of the state’s drilling takes place.
While 61 percent of respondents in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and its suburbs, only 28 percent of people in the rest of southwestern Pennsylvania favored a ban, versus 55 percent who were opposed. Those counties include Washington and Greene — two of the most heavily drilled in the state.
“The more suburban and urban respondents were, the more likely they are to oppose hydraulic fracturing,” Yost said.
In Philadelphia, 67 percent said they favor a ban on fracking, while 54 percent in the suburban Southeastern counties favored a ban.
Of those polled, 48 percent said they support the natural gas industry, while 44 percent said they were opposed. But when the poll asked voters whether they support a ban on fracking, those numbers were reversed, with 48 percent in favor of a ban, and 39 percent opposed.
The poll was conducted Jan. 20-26. Respondents were notified of the survey by mail and were interviewed by phone or online, depending on their preference. Results were weighted for age, gender, education, geography and political party registration to reflect known Pennsylvania demographics. The sample error is plus or minus 6.2 percentage points.