New poll shows majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

New poll shows majority of Pennsylvanians oppose fracking

Any conversation around natural-gas drilling, aka fracking, in Pennsylvania and politics is a tinderbox. Many pundits have proclaimed that opposition to fracking is a political taboo in the commonwealth, and some candidates even try to project that an opponent is opposed to fracking for political gain.

But those political maneuvers and opinions appear largely out of touch with reality.

A new CBS/YouGov poll of Pennsylvanians shows that a slight majority of the state now opposes fracking, with 52% of voters opposed and a corresponding 48% voting in favor of fracking.

That goes against the conventional wisdom that politicians can’t run on anti-fracking policies in Pennsylvania. In fact, in fracking-friendly Allegheny County, three political candidates won their primary elections this year while running on strong criticism of fracking and its related industries. Two of those candidates are sure to win the general election in their Democratic heavy districts, and one, Lissa Geiger Shulman, is running in a Republican held-district.

State Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) is one of the most vocal fracking opponents in the state. Her 2020 opponent ran almost exclusively on a pro-fracking platform, and Lee won with 75% of the vote, improving on her 2018 margin of victory by 16 points.

The CBS poll also asked which presidential candidate would do a better job at handling the issues surrounding natural-gas and oil exploration, including fracking, but didn’t specify what those issues were. The poll showed that 45% think that President Donald Trump would do a better job, and 42% believe Joe Biden would do a better job.

Recent Pennsylvania polls have shown a mixed bag on fracking support, but they appear to show opposition against fracking is growing. In November 2019, a Cook Political Report/Kaiser poll said that 57% of Pennsylvanians opposed a ban on fracking, and that 39% supported a fracking ban. In January of this year, 48% of registered Pennsylvania voters supported a ban on fracking compared to 39% who opposed a ban, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll. That same poll also said that 48% of Pennsylvania voters say they support natural-gas drilling in the state, while 44% oppose.

Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from underground by shooting liquid deep into the earth’s crust. There are large reserves of natural gas under many parts of Pennsylvania. Energy companies and industry boosters have heralded the fracking industry for benefiting Pittsburgh’s economy and helping transition energy production away from coal.

And while fracking has helped create some jobs in the region, and has lowered the country’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, natural-gas drilling also has severe environmental consequences and the promise of a new manufacturing sector created by fracking has never materialized.

Fracking produces copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25-84 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. Natural-gas drilling has also been linked to water contamination and is alleged to be the cause of a string of rare cancers that have spiked in Washington County.

Even as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been prosecuting fracking companies for their environmental crimes, and with public support apparently waning, the state general assembly recently passed a tax-subsidy package worth hundreds of millions to incentivize petrochemical companies from moving to Pennsylvania. Petrochemical companies refine natural-gas into products like plastics and fertilizer.

The CBS poll shows that, overall, Pennsylvanians are satisfied with the state of their water, air, and environment. Of those polled, 86% said that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the environment of where they live, with a breakdown of 34% very satisfied and 52% somewhat satisfied.

However, the poll also asked Wisconsinites about their satisfaction with their environment. Wisconsin had a frac sand industry for a few years, but it has largely been abandoned. Unlike Pennsylvania, the Badger State doesn’t currently have any large scale natural-gas drilling occurring. And, according to the poll, 89% of Wisconsinites are very or somewhat satisfied with the environment of where they live, with a breakdown of 44% very satisfied and 45% somewhat satisfied.

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