Shale Gas Perspectives – Let’s Take a Poll: Which Poll Do You Believe? (Vol. I, No. 9)

A Periodic Blog on the Status of Marcellus Shale Development  in the Southern Tier of New York – and Other Interesting and Exciting Developments in the Law, Science and Politics of Natural Gas Development (Or Not) in the Empire State.

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(July 2, 2013)

One industry that has been given a boost by the possibility of deep-shale natural gas drilling (fracking) in New York is the polling industry—as represented most notably by Sienna Research Institute at Siena College in Loudonville, NY (Siena) and Quinnipiac University Polling Institute at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT (Q).

News media headlines, in reporting these poll results—which have been highly variable, have been all over the map.  The past year has seen all of the following1:  “Poll shows increased support for fracking”2  (Q – 9/12); “NY state voters give plurality support to fracking”3   (Siena – 12/12); “NY voters oppose ‘fracking’ by narrow margin”4  (Siena – 1/13); “NY and Southern Tier voters nearly evenly divided on fracking; opponents more passionate than supporters”5  (Siena – 2/13) “New Yorkers mostly oppose fracking”6  (Siena – 3/13); “Today’s Qunnipiac Poll Showing New York Voters Oppose Fracking by ‘Clear Margin’”7 (Q – 3/13); “New Yorkers opposed to fracking: poll”8  (Q – 3/2013); “Fracking opposition growing in New York”9  (Q – 3/2013); “Grass Drilling Divides New York by Region…”10  (Q – 4/13); ”Voters 3 to 1 say fracking will damage environment”11  (Q – 4/13); “Latest Q Poll Results – NY Support for Fracking Trends Up”12  (Q – 6/13); “Fracking opponents rally in Albany as poll tilts toward them”13  (Siena – 6/13); and “New Poll Shows Slight Increase in N.Y. Voters Against Fracking”14  (Siena – 6/13).

National Poll Results on Fracking
Poll results and media reporting reflect the divisiveness and complexity of the fracking issue.  But, there is more negativity among New Yorkers than in most other parts of the country.  For example:

  • Pennsylvania residents, when asked if drilling should go forward in light of its economic benefits or stop because of potential environmental impacts, 62 percent chose continued drilling versus only 30 percent who said it should stop.  (Q – 9/12).
  • Ohio voters, when asked the same question, supported drilling over no drilling by a margin of 67% to 26%.  Support is strong among those with college degrees and those without, from all income groups and from all age groups.  The results are similar to those of similar Quinnipiac polls since early 2012.  (Q-6/13).
  • By wide margins, responders to a more recent poll (University of Michigan, May 2013) in both Pennsylvania (54% to 30%) and Michigan (52% to 24%–so far; and by 53% to 31%–in the future) felt that drilling for natural gas, in general, has provided (and will provide in the future) more benefits than problems.  And more than 80% of responders in both states felt that natural gas drilling is important to the overall condition of the state’s economy.  There was strong agreement (more than three-quarters) in both states, however, that natural gas drilling companies should have to disclose to the public the chemicals they inject underground as part of the fracking process.  And, there was significant agreement in both states that stricter regulation and increased taxes should not be avoided even if they will lead drilling firms to leave the state.  A surprising result, in light of the seemingly widespread view that gas drilling benefits outweigh its risks, is that both Pennsylvania (58% to 31%) and Michigan (52% to 41%) responders agree that their state should impose a “moratorium” on “hydraulic fracturing until there is a fuller understanding of the possible risks.”
  • One survey in Pennsylvania focused on 403 people in Washington County (Western PA), which has about 600 gas wells.  Almost 32% of responders had a family member who had signed a drilling lease.  Support for the resultant boom outweighed opposition 49% to 29%.  Over 76% of responders said drilling offered significant or moderate economic opportunities.  But, by a 58% to 42% margin, responders still thought drilling represents a threat to the environment.  (University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research)15 .
  • A national poll by Pew Research (3/13)16  found that Americans thought “more emphasis” (versus less emphasis) should be placed on producing domestic energy from natural gas by a margin of 65% to 10%.  (Natural gas ranked third—after “solar power” and “wind”).  The margin was smaller (48% in favor; 38% opposed), when respondents were asked whether they favor or oppose increased use of “fracking.”  Support was greatest in the Midwest (55%) and the South (52%), and lowest in the Northeast (37%) and West (43%).  However, responses to the question “Which natural resource is extracted in a process known as ‘fracking’?,” showed that a bare 51% of adults could pick the correct answer from a multiple-choice list of “Coal, Diamonds, Natural gas, and Silicon.”  When asked how much they had heard about hydraulic fracturing, 74% of responders admitted to knowing nothing or little about fracking.  Among the 63% of the public who were at least marginally aware of the issue, support nationally for fracking was 52% versus 35%.
  • The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School, does a twice-yearly Energy Poll.  The polling (most recently, the March 2013 poll)17  shows “steady support for the expansion of domestic natural gas development” (62% of respondents, supported more natural gas production in the U.S.  When asked if the benefits of domestic natural gas development outweigh the costs, 41 percent said “Yes” and only 18 percent said “No.”  Regarding the issue of hydraulic fracturing, the UT poll found that a plurality of 45% to 41% support it (of those who are familiar with hydraulic fracturing or fracking)—and support has increased by 4% since September 2012.  Averaged out among the last three polls, support has exceeded opposition 45 percent to 39 percent.  Among the specific benefits of natural gas: job creation (75% vs. 4%); energy security (70% vs. 5%); boosting of manufacturing (69% vs. 5%); and lowering carbon emissions (53% vs. 11%).  Sixty percent of those who know about fracking favor more regulation (38%), or more enforcement even where regulation is sufficient (22%).
  • A 2010 national survey of 1,012 adults found that only 43% of responders were very or somewhat aware of the issue of fracking, while 56% were not aware at all (44%) or “not very aware” (13%).  Among the 493 responders with some awareness of fracking, 69% said that they were very concerned (40%) or somewhat concerned ((29%) about fracking “as it relates to water quality.”  (Infogroup/ORC, Dec. 21, 2010).  To illustrate how poll results can be “adjusted” (or even manipulated) the 340 responders with some level of concern about water quality represent only 33.6% of the overall survey sample.
  • A December 2012  Bloomberg National Poll of 1,000 adults found that 66 percent of Americans want more oversight over the fracking process.  This was an increase from 56 percent in a September poll, and about the same as in a March 2012 poll (65 percent)18.
  • American Agriculturist’s poll of 844 people attending the New York Farm Show in late February 2013 found that 42% consider fracking safe, while 30% consider it unsafe, with another 28% undecided.

Drilling Down Into Recent Poll Results
The two most recent polls to address public opinion on fracking in New York were a June 6th Quinnipiac poll [Q-poll] (conducted from May 29 to June 3) and a June 17th Siena poll (conducted June 9-13).  Both polls were live telephone surveys and both focused on registered voters.  The Q-poll surveyed 1,075 individuals with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.  The Siena poll surveyed 804 individuals with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points.

The Q-poll found that, statewide, 46% of voters said “there should be drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale because of the economic benefits,” while 44% said “there should not be [such] drilling because of the environmental impact.”  Nine percent didn’t know or didn’t answer.”  Pro-drilling sentiment was down slightly from a high of 47% in August 2011, and was up from a low of 39% in March 2013.  The number of undecideds on the issue was the lowest ever.

When responses are sorted out by area of the state (Upstate, New York City, and suburbs), support for drilling is highest in Upstate (52%) and lowest in New York City (39%), with the suburbs in between (50%),  Support for no-drilling, conversely, is highest in New York City (50%), and lowest in the suburbs (40%) and Upstate (41%).  “Upstate” New York is defined as the 53 counties north and west of New York City and its immediate suburban neighbors (Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk counties).  It would be interesting to see Upstate poll results separated into the 28 counties located (wholly or partially) above Marcellus shale deposits and the 25 counties with no direct economic (or environmental) stake in extraction of natural gas from these deposits.  The latter counties harbor many municipalities that have imposed bans or moratoria on fracking; the former, very few.

The same Q-poll also asked voters whether they thought Governor Cuomo “is carefully evaluating the issue of hydro-fracking” or “is dragging his feet and trying to avoid making a decision on the issue ….”  By a plurality of 36% to 22% (with 38% having no opinion), New York voters believe that the Governor has been dragging his feet on this issue.  Although that sentiment is strongest in Upstate (41% to 25%), it is shared by voters in all areas of the State.  Moreover, that sentiment has been steadily growing, from a low of (25% vs. 26%) in December 2012, to its present level (with March and April 2013 results in between).  Not since December 2012 have more voters (just barely) credited the Governor with thoughtful deliberation than foot-dragging.

The Siena poll asked voters how much they had heard or read about the Department of Environmental Conservation’s expected “decision on whether or not to allow hydrofracking—that is the proposed method to recover natural gas from parts of upstate New York—to move forward.”  A plurality (35%)—the highest ever—responded “a great deal.”  At the same time, 32% said they knew “not very much” or “nothing.”  Thirty-four percent said they had heard or read “some.”

Siena then asked voters whether they “support or oppose” DEC “allowing hydrofracking to move forward in parts of upstate New York.”  Opponents outnumbered supporters 44% to 37%, with 18% having no opinion.  One wonders which way the 32% with little or no knowledge (from the previous question) voted.  By region, support for fracking was highest (47%) in the suburbs; lowest in New York City (30%), while opposition was heaviest in Upstate (52%) and lowest in the suburbs (34%).  Interestingly, lack of information was most prevalent in New York City (44%) and least prevalent in Upstate (16%).

The differences in Q-poll and Siena results can probably be explained by the fact that the Q-poll asked questions requiring responders to weigh environmental risks of gas drilling against economic benefits, while the Siena poll focused on whether DEC should or should not allow “hydro-fracking” in Upstate New York.  When the focus is solely on “fracking” in Upstate New York and DEC’s regulatory approach toward it, the attention of poll responders is solely on environmental risks because that is the emphasis of the question and any economic benefits will be realized by distant “Upstaters.”  Indeed, to the extent City residents are at all knowledgeable about the fracking issue, it is probably in the context that fracking could potentially impact Upstate water supply reservoirs on which much of the City’s supply depends.

A May 2013 University of Michigan19 survey of Pennsylvania and Michigan residents asked residents how much they had heard about a process known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.”  In Michigan, 59% of responders said they had “never heard of it” (17%) or had “heard a little” (42%).  In Pennsylvania, 53% “had never heard of it” (13%) or had “heard a little” (40%).  And, in response to a separate question, 45% of responders in both Pennsylvania and Michigan said they consider the word “fracking” a negative term.  So, using the term “fracking” in a poll question seems unlikely to promote the most informed (or positive) possible responses—even in a state like Pennsylvania where fracking is a widespread practice.

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has said that he really doesn’t like the word “fracking” because “it connotes something bad.”  There are “too many consonants in the word ‘fracking,’ hard consonants,” he said.20

Conclusion
If the polls demonstrated predominant support for or against gas drilling, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision on whether to allow gas drilling to move forward in New York would be considerably easier.  However, the Governor has repeatedly insisted that his decision will be based on the science rather than the politics.  But it is asking too much of science to pronounce gas drilling in deep-shale deposits to be totally risk-free.  So, the Governor’s decision continues to be delayed, as New York rapidly approaches the five-year mark on its de facto gas drilling moratorium.

The dilemma for the Governor is not that public opinion is evenly divided; it is his perceived indecisiveness and lack of leadership on the gas drilling issue.  Despite the Governor’s statement on public radio in April, “[t]here’s no winning—in some ways there are no ways of losing because it’s [the polls] literally 50-50.”21  there are, indeed, ways of losing—not only for the State but also for the Governor.

As pointed out by the state Petroleum Council: “the issue isn’t polls; it’s leadership.”22   And, unlike other tough issues where the Governor has been able to negotiate compromises, “on fracking, there is no Cuomoesque middle ground.”23   “The issue defies the usual political methods of Cuomo, who has been lauded by pundits, and rewarded in the polls by the public, for his ability to negotiate compromises among competing interests in Albany.”  Id.  “… Cuomo, who is extremely attuned to such things, has been uncharacteristically flummoxed about whether or not to move forward with hydrofracking in New York State.”24

The Governor’s delaying tactics have earned him various unflattering nicknames: “The Albany Machiavelli” (New York Magazine);25  “Hamlet on the Hudson, Jr.” (Natural Gas Forums.com);26  a “ditherer” (New York Daily News,27  Capital New York,28  New York Post);29  and “[a]h, as the feet drag” (New York Post).30

More worrisome to the Governor than what some pundits think of him should be the polling results (Q-6/13) that indicate that a substantial majority of New York voters, by a wide margin (36% to 22%) believe that the Governor has been “dragging his feet” on the issue of fracking and trying to avoid making a decision on this issue—rather than engaging in careful evaluation of the issue.  Although this sentiment is strongest in Upstate (41% to 25%), it is prevalent in every region of the state, including New York City, where opposition to fracking is heaviest.  And it has been growing every month, since December 2012.

The New York Post has observed editorially:  “… Cuomo’s tactic of pushing a decision on fracking further and further down the road has given the antis precious time to organize and mobilize.”31   In rejecting what he regarded as the Petroleum Council’s [gratuitous] advice that he disregard public opinion polls and make a leadership decision, the Governor challenged pro-fracking advocates to consider why people have the negative feelings about gas drilling that they do, and to do more to explain to the public why their fears are unfounded.  He posed the following rhetorical questions: “Why do you have people who are hundreds of miles from the scene of where any fracking would take place who have these kinds of fears?  Why do you have the state Legislature, where if they could vote on this I’ll bet you four-fifths would vote against it?”32   A month later, the Governor was quoted as telling the Business Council of New York State that “he was concerned that if he approved fracking, the State Legislature would enact a drilling moratorium by a veto-proof majority.”33

The longer the Governor defers a decision, the more opportunity there will be for anti-fracking sentiment to spread and the less opportunity there will be for the voters who dislike his decision to forgive or forget.

If, as has been suggested, the Governor aspires to high national office, voters are likely to closely examine Mr. Cuomo’s qualities as a leader—particularly, when many of the must-win states for a Democrat looking to move to the White House are active gas-drilling states.   As noted by New York Magazine,34  “[i]t [his stance on fracking] all makes Cuomo look uncharacteristically indecisive—something that’s often more damaging in politics than looking unprincipled.”

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Article written by Kenneth S. Kamlet, Esq.  For more information, contact Mr. Kamlet at 607-231-6914 or via email at kkamlet@hhk.com.

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  1. Results were based on Google search results using the phrase “Polls on fracking in NY”.
  2. North Country Public Radio – 9/13/2012 (Karen DeWitt, NYS Capitol Correspondent).
  3. The Daily Caller – 12/15/2012 (Michael Bastasch).
  4. Troy Record – 1/17/2013 (Associated Press).
  5. Siena Research Institute news release – 2/4/2013 (Steven Greenberg).
  6. Salon.com – 3/11/2013 (Jillian Rayfield).
  7. New Yorkers Against Fracking news release – 3/20/2013 (Mandela Jones).
  8. New York Post – 3/20/2013 (Erik Kriss, Albany Bureau Chief).
  9. Syracuse Post Standard – 3/21/2013 (Rick Moriarty); Source: Albany Times-Union.
  10. Quinnipiac University Polling Institute – 4/18/2013 (Maurice Carroll, Director).
  11. Legislative Gazette – 4/22/2013 (Staff Writers).
  12. Marcellus Drilling News – 6/6/2013.
  13. Elmira Star Gazette – 6/17/2013 (Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau).
  14. WETM18 (TV) Online – 6/17/2013 (Ben Amey).
  15. As reported in the Indiana (PA) Gazette, by Kevin Begos of the Associated Press, “Poll: Attitudes on fracking differ between Pennsylvania and New York,” Dec. 10, 2012.
  16. http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/energy-key-data/points/.
  17. http://www.utenergypoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/UT-Energy-Poll-April-2013-Topline-Results.pdf.
  18. The methodology of the Bloomberg Poll, which was conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, was critiqued by Simon Lomax in a Dec. 18, 2012 column in Energy in Depth, http://energyindepth.org/national/bloombergs-misleading-hydraulic-fracturing-poll-2/. Lomax cited three “mistakes” in the poll’s approach: (1) polling a national audience rather than focusing polling in states where tight oil and gas development “is actually relevant”; (2) asking a “hardly neutral” question “that invites someone to express support for more regulation, because if they don’t, they’re effectively expressing support for “tainted water supplies and earthquakes”, and (3) “priming” the responses to the fracking question by leading up to it with a question about global warming.
  19. The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan (in conjunction with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion), “The National Surveys on Energy and Environment – Public Opinion on Fracking: Perspectives from Michigan and Pennsylvania, May 2013.
  20. Capital New York, “In a swipe at Cuomo, Bloomberg says fracking decisions shouldn’t be political,” Dana Rubinstein, April 24, 2013.
  21. Quoted in Long Island Newsday, “Gas industry presses Cuomo on Fracking,” Joan Gralla, April 22, 2013.
  22. New York Post Editorial, “Cuomo gets it right on fracking,” March 25, 2013.
  23. Capital New York, “Why fracking has Cuomo at a loss,” Reid Pillifant, Feb. 13, 2013.
  24. “In a swipe at Cuomo, Bloomberg says fracking decisions shouldn’t be political,” Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein, April 24, 2013
  25. “Why Things are About to Get a Lot Tougher for Andrew Cuomo,” New York Magazine, April 2013.
  26. Natural Gas Forum for Landowners, Tom Shepstone, “Andrew Ditherer Cuomo – Hamlet on the Hudson, Jr., ” May 30, 2013 {a takeoff on what pundits called Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992, while he deliberated on whether or not to run for President}.
  27. New York Daily News, “Cookin’ with gas: Cuomo’s dithering on fracking is stalling a game-changer for New York’s economy,” Opinion, March 31, 2013.
  28. “In a swipe at Cuomo, Bloomberg says fracking decisions shouldn’t be political,” Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein, April 24, 2013.
  29. New York Post, “Andrew’s latest dither,” Editorial, November 21, 2012.
  30. New York Post, “Andrew’s latest dither,” Editorial, November 21, 2012.
  31. New York Post Editorial, “Cuomo gets it right on fracking,” March 25, 2013.
  32. Capitol Confidential, “Cuomo has advice for pro-fracking lobbyists,” Casey Seiler {Capitol bureau chief}, March 20, 2013.
  33. New York Post, April 20, 2013; cited in Long Island Newsday, April 22, 2013.
  34. “Why Things are About to Get a Lot Tougher for Andrew Cuomo,” New York Magazine, April 2013.

One Response to “Shale Gas Perspectives – Let’s Take a Poll: Which Poll Do You Believe? (Vol. I, No. 9)”

  1. [...] with one of Binghamton’s premier law firms, Hinman, Howard & Kattell (HHK), recently wrote an article for the HHK legal blog that takes a close look at public polling in New York State on the issue of shale drilling and [...]