Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Three Big Reasons Why Support For Gas Drilling In PA Falls Below 50%: Too Many Accidents, Inadequate Regulation, & No Tax

Last week's poll from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College showing 58% support for a moratorium on gas drilling in Pennsylvania was quickly dismissed by the gas industry, as I expected.  Indeed, the wording of the question about a moratorium did have some problems.

But the poll asked another well-worded question about support for gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  That question found 49% support it, and 40% do not.

In short, gas drilling no longer has majority support in Pennsylvania.  And the 9-point plurality in favor of gas drilling in Pennsylvania is not much different from the narrow margins in New York.

The Michigan-Mullenberg poll also found those strongly supporting and opposing the industry are almost equal in size at about 20% to 25%.  Another approximately 55% of Pennsylvanians neither strongly support or oppose the industry.  And in this big middle group, trends should worry the gas industry.

While the gas industry continues to say nothing is amiss with public opinion, its operations, and its taxation, the Michigan-Mullenberg poll indicates strongly otherwise.  What has pushed public support for gas drilling below 50% and increased opposition to 40%?  Four major causes exist.

First, too many accidents like last week's compressor station and fire in Susquehanna county.

Last week's compressor fire was neither the first in Susquehanna County nor in Pennsylvania.

My brief search turned up at least 5 compressor station fires since 2011.  See also:

Too many accidents and spills erode public support for gas drilling and also contribute to an implosion in public confidence about the Corbett Administration's oversight of the gas industry.   While poor or mediocre industry performance makes gas regulation tougher, the Corbett Administration from the outset chose to fight citizens concerned about gas drilling and to adamantly oppose any gas drilling tax.  It has also not hired any more gas inspectors, cut violations issued to the gas industry by 50%, and picked one fight after another with the Environmental Protection Agency, even describing the EPA as a "rogue" agency.

Bashing the EPA thrills the 25% of Pennsylvanians that are the drill-baby-drill group but chills the much bigger segment that wants the gas industry strongly and professionally regulated.

To make matters even more toxic, many people view the Governor's opposition to taxing the industry as repayment for large donations by some in the gas industry going back to Corbett's campaigns for Attorney General.

Other than Pennsylvania, oil and gas states realize that hosting gas production brings impacts and creates both winners and losers.  And so Texas, Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota--to name a few--all have something in common.  They tax energy heavily and, in the case of Texas and Wyoming, even have no income tax.  Everywhere but Pennsylvania, oil and gas drilling tax revenues are used to keep college tuition low, fund individual payments in Alaska, or otherwise provide services that benefit all citizens.

No tax,  inadequate regulation, and too many accidents all add up to public support for gas production below 50% in Pennsylvania.  


  1. The gas industry pays every tax that other industry pays. And we have our own very special impact fee. The impact fee has raised nearly $400 million dollars in just its first two years. That's not "no tax". And I would argue that providing a clean, domestic, CHEAP energy to the populace benefits all citizens.

    You're missing one important component in why the polls read the way they do: The media. The shoddy reporting, wanton sensationalism, and the frustrating practice of having a crazy fractivist be the obligatory counterpoint in all stories regarding gas development is presenting a false dichotomy to the populace. Which, of course, is exactly the strategy of those who wish to block development.

    1. Impact fee? Interesting. What's the dollar damage just to roads in PA? In Texas, it's more than $2 billion. Tell you what, why don't you offer up your backyard for a gas plant and we'll check back with you in a few months to see if you're still up for providing such 'cheap' energy to the populace.

    2. In Pennsylvania gas companies have to bond the roads they utilize, and then make repairs out of pocket on a case by case basis.

      In many cases, companies go in and rebuild the roads BEFORE utilizing them. There is little if any burden on most municipalities when it comes to gas drilling. And if I had a property suitable to hold a gas plant, I'd be happy to host one.

      It's all relative. I've met people who live next to a major highway who are terrified of air pollution from drilling, yet for some reason completely oblivious to the thick and rank smell of diesel fumes coming nearly constantly from the highway next to them. It's surreal.

      Cheap energy provides everyone with a lifestyle which could not be imagined 200 years ago. Life expectancy is at an all time high. All of us will have to sacrifice in some way or another, if you call trading a penny for a dollar a "sacrifice".

  2. toxic chemicals, massive water consumption, fugitive methane emissions (and their damage to climate), radon, radioactivity, air impacts are a few other reasons that make it unpopular.
    Who in their right mind wants a ten acre benzene producing, offensively loud, explosive, intensive industrial development up close and personal to their children and home!!!!

    1. Um, how about people that choose to live in cities? How much fossil fuels are burned in close proximity there? How many millions of cars, taxis, garbage trucks, big rigs, oil fueled boilers, etc. are operating in New York City this morning? How much pollutants are they putting out per square mile? Should we start investigating people who raise their children in cities for child abuse for subjecting them to emissions far beyond what one would encounter at one of those HORRIFIC gas drilling sites?

      You can take any situation, strip away context and spin it to sound scary. I'd much rather live next to a gas well out in the country (which, I do), but hundreds of millions of other people choose to live in cities.