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.