Poll: Pa. backs fracking; Corbett’s handling of issue, less so

Pennsylvania likes shale-gas drilling, but Republican Gov. Corbett appears to get little political benefit from that sentiment despite his pro-industry views, according to a University of Michigan poll released Monday.

The survey, conducted this spring, found 54 percent of Pennsylvanians support extracting natural gas from their state, compared with just 29 percent of New Yorkers, whose state likewise sits atop gas-rich shale.

Still, 47 percent of Pennsylvanians disapprove of the way Corbett is handling natural-gas issues, compared with 19 percent who approve – likely a factor in the governor’s uphill reelection campaign, said pollster Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, who conducted the survey.

“Some of it is a reflection of generally negative views about Tom Corbett right now,” Borick said. “But his handling of the issue has been politically questionable in a lot of ways. Clearly he has paid a cost in terms of his reticence on an extraction tax. It’s become a liability for him.”

Sixty-two percent of Pennsylvania respondents support a state tax on the value of natural gas, the poll found, and 57 percent said doing so would not drive drillers out of the state. Corbett has argued that a so-called severance tax would stall exploration.

Democrats, including gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf, have attacked Corbett’s handling of gas-drilling issues and are pushing for a severance tax, arguing that revenue from the natural-gas boom could help offset cuts in education funding from Harrisburg. Pennsylvania is the only major energy-producing state without such a tax, but the industry has paid $633 million since 2011 in so-called impact fees to municipalities that host drilling operations.

Previous polls in both states found New Yorkers viewed natural-gas production less positively than Pennsylvanians did; the states share a 300-mile border and a large chunk of the Marcellus Shale gas deposit.

Past polls in Pennsylvania also showed broad support for taxing the gas.

The latest poll found 66 percent of New York respondents had a negative view of the word fracking – the process of blasting gas from shale with a mixture of water and chemicals, or hydrofracturing – compared with 47 percent of Pennsylvanians.

The bi-state survey is a project of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion, and the University of Montreal. It is part of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment series.

Unlike Pennsylvania, New York imposed a moratorium on fracking for natural gas in 2008, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also is running for reelection, is considering whether to lift it.

The evolving approaches to gas-drilling issues could be taken as a “sign that the governments are responsive to public opinion,” Borick said.

Pollsters conducted live telephone interviews in April and May with 405 New Yorkers and 411 Pennsylvanians. Results for each state are subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

via Poll: Pa. backs fracking; Corbett’s handling of issue, less so.