Pa. residents like natural-gas drilling, also want to tax it

20140901-Fracking-Shale-Loyalsock
A dispute over the ownership of mineral rights could determine who would profit from drilling operations similar to this well in Loyalsock State Forest.

A majority of Pennsylvanians, 54 percent, support the extraction of shale natural gas, while just 29 percent of New Yorkers do, according to a new University of Michigan poll of two states that share a chunk of the massive Marcellus Shale deposit.

Despite positive views of hydraulic fracking for shale gas in their state, 47 percent of Pennsylvanians disapprove of the way Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is handling the issue, compared to 19 percent who approve – likely a factor in his troubled re-election campaign.

“Some of it is a reflection of generally negative views about Tom Corbett right now,” said pollster Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College, who conducted the survey. “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 the state imposing on tax on the extraction of natural gas, and 57 percent said that doing so would not cause drillers to leave the state. That is a key argument Corbett has cited in opposition to a severance tax. (Pennsylvania does impose a local impact fee to compensate municipalities that host drilling.)

Democrats, including gubernatorial nominee Tom Wolf, have attacked Corbett’s handling of the shale industry and are pushing for a severance tax, arguing that revenues from the state’s natural-gas boom could help offset cuts in education funding from Harrisburg.

The poll is a project of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Muhlenberg 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 that state in 2008, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), also running for reelection, is considering whether to lift it.

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

Pollsters conducted live telephone interviews with 405 New York residents and 411 Pennsylvania residents, conducted in April and May of this year. Results for each state are subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.