- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2013

A majority of Americans support fracking, but even larger majorities remain concerned about the drilling process’ potential impacts on drinking water quality and support more research into the practice, new polling data show.

The ORC International survey released Thursday is being trumpeted by environmental groups, which argue that it demonstrates the public remains somewhat skeptical about the safety of fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas — and instead favor a swift transition to renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

For example, 79 percent of those polled said they’re “concerned about fracking as it relates to water quality.”

Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans said they “support more studies of the health and environmental consequences of fracking.” Nearly 80 percent support the disclosure of chemicals used during the process, something many oil and natural gas companies already do.

“The bottom line here is that Americans are not opposed to more domestic energy production, but they are unwilling to achieve it by sacrificing clean water,” said Scott Stapf, a senior fellow at the Civil Society Institute, one of the groups that commissioned the study.

“When given a menu of choices Americans weigh our options and come down in favor of increased energy efficiency and low environmental impact,” he said.

While the public clearly wants to protect clean air and water, it also understands the value of fracking, which uses water, sand and chemical mixtures to break apart underground rock and release vast quantities of fuel.

In a Rasmussen poll from last year, 57 percent of Americans said they support the practice, which has revitalized economies in Pennsylvania among other states and also has set the U.S. on a course to be energy independent in about a decade.

A recent Siena College poll in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to weigh whether to allow fracking, found that 42 percent of people support the process, while 36 percent oppose it. Fifteen percent said they didn’t have enough information to make a decision.

Taken as a whole, the poll data suggest that the American public wants to see fracking used to increase domestic oil and natural gas production but also wants to see strict environmental safeguards in place. That approach is precisely the one embraced by political leaders from both sides of the aisle, including President Obama.

Environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers also have attacked the idea of the U.S. exporting some of its ample supply of oil and gas, a notion asked about in Thursday’s survey.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they oppose exports until further health research is completed.

Oil and gas proponents counter that by arguing there will never be enough scientific or medical research to satisfy those who oppose fossil fuels on ideological grounds.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said Thursday that the export of liquified natural gas, in particular, would greatly benefit the U.S. economy.

“America’s newfound abundance of natural gas resources is a boon to all domestic manufacturing through lower energy costs, lower costs on raw materials and reduced heating bills,” he said. “Restricting exports of energy makes no more sense than unnecessarily restricting the export of chemicals, agriculture products or cars, and such a backward move could violate international trade rules.”

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