Hydraulic Fracturing Awareness Growing, Along with Concerns over Regulation, Water Quality Issues

Awareness of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is growing in the minds of the public. According to a poll conducted by the Civil Society Institute, nearly half of all Americans know something about the controversial natural gas drilling technique, in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals is injected deep underground under high pressure.

Many of the 1,012 people surveyed were worried about the impact fracking will have on water quality, and many expressed concerns that not enough was being done to regulate the industry.

The Civil Society Institute is a nonpartisan think tank based in Massachusetts that advocates solutions for climate change. According to a statement from the group, its fracking survey is the first national poll to gauge the attitudes of Americans on the subject. In addition to the national poll, the Civil Society Institute also conducted separate surveys in Pennsylvania and New York, two states at the center of the fracking debate.

The national survey found that nearly three out of five Americans (57 percent) had at least some awareness of fracking as an issue, including “very aware” (19 percent), “somewhat aware” (25 percent), and “not very aware” (13 percent).

Other key findings of the national survey include:

• More than three out of four Americans (78 percent) would “strongly” (49 percent) or “somewhat” (29 percent) support “tighter public disclosure requirements as well as studies of the health and environmental consequences of the chemicals used in natural gas drilling.” Fewer than one in five (16 percent) would oppose requiring such additional disclosure.

• Over half of Americans (56 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking think state and federal officials are either “not doing as much as they should” (42 percent) or “not doing anything at all” (14 percent) to “require proper disclosure of the chemicals used in natural gas drilling.”

• Among Americans who are very or somewhat aware of fracking, more than two out of three (69 percent) are “very” (40 percent) or “somewhat” (29 percent) concerned about water quality issues. Less than a third said they were “not very concerned” (15 percent) or “not concerned at all” (16 percent).

• Nearly three out of four Americans (73 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking would be “very concerned: (58 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (15 percent) to “have such an energy project close enough to your home that there was even a small chance that it could have an impact on your drinking water.

The survey of 838 New Yorkers found that half of all New York state residents – but under two in five New York City residents — are already very or somewhat aware of the controversy about hydraulic fracturing. Among New York state residents who already are aware of fracking, nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) are concerned about the drilling technique’s possible threat to clean drinking water for New York City.

In New York, fracking has been particularly controversial. The state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus shale region includes the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had gas drilling permit approvals on hold since 2008 while it conducts an environmental review of fracking, but that could be lifted at any time. Earlier this month, the state’s governor signed an Executive that Order that bans high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing until at least July 1, 2011.

The Civil Society Institute’s survey of 403 Pennsylvania residents found that four out of five Pennsylvania residents (81 percent) who are very/somewhat aware of fracking are “very concerned” (44 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (37 percent) “about the potential for Pennsylvania drinking water sources to be compromised by the natural gas drilling process known as ‘fracking’.”

Pennsylvania, also a Marcellus shale state, has been at the center of a fracking boom since 2008.

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