Cumberland Times-News

Local News

February 25, 2013

Western Maryland supports fracking studies, says poll

CUMBERLAND — A new poll shows strong support for continuing studies before allowing drilling for natural gas by the hydraulic fracturing process in Maryland. And that strong support includes voters in the state’s three westernmost counties: Washington, Garrett and Allegany, according to a poll by OpinionWorks.

“Support for requiring fracking studies is as strong in the three counties of Western Maryland, where most of the proposed fracking activity will take place, as in the rest of the state. In Western Maryland, 76 percent of voters think fracking studies should be conducted, while only 22 percent do not think so,” a memo analyzing the poll said.

The memo was prepared by Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks for release today.

Legislators and organizations supporting a legislative moratorium on fracking hailed the release of the poll and participated in a teleconference Monday, in advance of a hearing on SB 601 scheduled for 1 p.m. today in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“Western Marylanders have the most at stake if fracking goes forward, so it’s no surprise that there’s strong support here for common-sense studies,” said Eric Robison, co-founder and president of Citizen Shale. “If toxic chemicals spill into streams or pollute drinking water, we could be paying with our health, our tourism jobs and our farms long after the gas companies leave town. The moratorium bill will protect us now and ensure that a final decision is based on the facts, not industry pressure or propaganda,” Robison said.

In order to get the gas trapped in Marcellus Shale to the surface, chemicals, water and sand are pumped underground to break apart rock formations and free the gas. The process is called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s created an advisory commission, with a report due in 2014; until then, no permits will be issued for drilling Marcellus Shale in the state.

Some members of the commission have said they want the industry to fund studies and are seeking extensive reviews before any drilling occurs.

Others, such as Sen. George Edwards, have maintained extensive scientific evidence is already available, gathered from states where drilling has occurred. Moratorium advocates fear the commission’s work might be circumvented without legislative action.

The poll was commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which supports a moratorium on fracking until the studies are performed.

Among other clients, including public sector agencies, OpinionWorks does polling for The Baltimore Sun.

Industry polls have shown different results when asking voters about gas drilling, but have been criticized by activists for avoiding the issue of hydraulic fracturing.

And voters told pollsters that they considered the issue important in considering their vote.

Slightly more than half of voters (52 percent) said a legislator’s stand on fracking studies could help determine whether they vote for that legislator in the next election.

Among those whose vote could be affected by this issue, more than three times as many (40 percent) would likely vote for a legislator who required these studies, compared to those who would likely vote against that legislator (12 percent).

“In Western Maryland, where the fracking would occur, 29 percent are more likely to vote for a legislator who supports the studies, versus 10 percent who would likely vote against them,” Raabe said in the memo.

The OpinionWorks survey was conducted from Dec. 28, 2012 to January 2, 2013.

The poll surveyed 800 randomly selected registered voters. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus no mare than 3.5 percent at a confidence level of 95 percent, meaning that 95 percent of the time, the margin of error would not be exceeded if every registered voter in the state was surveyed.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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