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Poll finds Pennsylvania, New York at odds on fracking

Shane Thielges | Shale Plays Media

Residents of Pennsylvania and New York differ greatly in their views on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a new public opinion poll has found.

StateImpact reports that, according to poll results, 54 percent of Pennsylvanians support “the development of shale gas” while only 29 percent of New Yorkers felt the same. The survey was a joint effort by the University of Michigan, the University of Montreal and Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College.

The results are, perhaps, not surprising. Pennsylvania is the most prolific natural gas state in the Marcellus shale, making it the highest-producing state of the highest-producing play in the highest-producing country in the world. New York, meanwhile, has effectively banned hydraulic fracturing within the state since 2008, pending state review of the practice’s health effects that officials say are still ongoing.

Possibly more surprising are findings on public support for state leaders’ handling of drilling-related issues. Both New York and Pennsylvania residents gave more negative than positive ratings to their governors. New York’s Andrew Cuomo got a positive rating from 27 percent of respondents, compared to 36 percent negative responses. His Pennsylvanian counterpart Tom Corbett found support among just 19 percent of his constiuents, while 47 percent said they did not approve of the way the natural gas industry has been handled.

As each state’s public opinion on drilling roughly matches current practices, what accounts for this gap in support for leadership?

It’s true that Tom Corbett has faced longstanding criticism for his lack of leadership. A Republican governor in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature, he has nonetheless faced repeated problems finding support for issues he champions. Last spring he failed to get a state budget passed that included a severance tax on natural gas drilling, a policy the public says it supports at 62 percent.

Analysts say Corbett faces a tough upcoming election against Democratic opponent Tom Wolf due to his flagging popularity. Nevertheless, he has shown consistent support for the shale gas industry during his time in office. At least in this instance, pro-gas Pennsylvanians would have been expected to rate his policies more highly.

Similarly, Cuomo took flack for his management despite maintaining a fracking ban in an anti-fracking state. New Yorkers agree with the state position that the health effects of hydraulic fracturing are not yet known at a rate of 51 percent (Interestingly, Pennsylvanians agreed with that statement slightly more strongly at 55 percent – maybe in the opposite camp). Why, then, is such blame placed on their governor?

Maybe residents are tired of half-baked answers that kick the can further down the road. Corbett’s ineffective leadership and Cuomo’s willingness to play “wait-and-see” may have left a bad taste in the public’s collective mouth.

Conversely, they could just be pinning what frustrations exist on the most convenient scapegoats. As neighboring states, they may covet each others’ drilling royalties and clean water supplies in a “the-gas-is-greener-on-the-other-side” relationship, but be unwilling to accept that their own proclivities caused the unavoidable drawbacks.

Read the survey results story on StateImpact and decide for yourself: Survey: Pennsylvanians like fracking more than New Yorkers

Related: Poll finds major energy support in Pennsylvania

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