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The number of Americans who say they want more regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, outnumber those who want less regulation by a three-to-one margin, according to a Bloomberg poll released Friday.
Sixty-five percent of 1,002 adults polled this month favored more regulation of the natural gas drilling practice, while 18 percent want less and 17 percent aren’t sure.
The ongoing natural gas boom has boosted domestic production, reduced prices for consumers and created 600,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg, but the impacts of fracking – especially on drinking water supplies – have made it one of the nation’s most divisive and talked-about environmental issues.
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of chemical-laced freshwater, often taken from local rivers and lakes, deep underground to break up rock and release gas. The current gas boom is partially fueled by new fracking techniques that can access more reserves, but have been linked to groundwater contamination across the country.
Fracking regulation has been left up to the states and the industry enjoys little federal oversight, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed emissions and wastewater treatment rules and is conducting a nationwide study on the impacts of fracking that could lead to more federal regulation. The preliminary findings are due out by the end of the year.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he wants to expand gas drilling on public lands to boost economic fuel production. Obama said drilling should be done safely and he supports new rules, such as requiring fracking operators drilling on public lands to disclose the chemicals they pump in the ground.
Voters also seem to be finding a middle ground between the “drill baby drill” mentality and simply banning fracking, as some environmental groups have suggested.
Consider Ohio, where a pro-industry governor recently signed legislation allowing drilling in state parks as the gas industry expands drilling of the state’s shale reserves. Ohioans say fracking will breath economic life into the state – 85 percent say fracking will create jobs, and 64 percent say the economic benefits outweigh environmental concerns – but 72 percent of Ohio voters want to stop fracking until there are further studies on its environmental impact, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
The Quinnipiac polled Ohioans from January 9 to 16, just a couple weeks after a fracking wastewater injection well made headlines after it caused a 4.0 magnitude earthquake in the Youngstown area. Last week, Ohio regulators confirmed that a nearby fracking wastewater injection well, where millions of gallons of fracking wastewater are pumped underground, caused 12 earthquakes in 2011.
In Pennsylvania, where well blowouts and water contamination have marred the industry’s exploitation of a massive shale gas reserve, 62 percent of voters still say the economic benefits of fracking outweigh environmental concerns, according to a September 2011 Quinnipiac poll. Pennsylvanians want a piece of the pie though, with 64 percent of voters saying they support a new tax on drilling companies, including 51 percent of Republicans.