Poll: Strong support for gas drilling in Pa.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania voters support natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a new poll that also shows strong backing for an extraction tax on energy companies.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows that 63 percent of Pennsylvanians say the economic benefits of drilling outweigh the environmental impacts, while 30 percent express the opposite view.

The poll appears to reflect the prosperity that drilling has brought to economically struggling regions of the state. Drilling firms and related industries added 72,000 jobs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011 — at an average salary higher than the statewide average, according to the state Labor Department.

Meanwhile, 69 percent told pollsters they support a drilling tax on gas companies, unchanged from an April survey. Pennsylvania remains the largest gas-drilling state without an extraction tax. The state Senate plans to debate a bill as early as next week that would impose an "impact fee" on natural-gas drilling.

"'Drill, baby, drill,' is the call from Pennsylvania voters, and 'tax, baby, tax,' is the follow-up as voters see natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale as an economic plus more than an environmental negative," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "They also see added taxes on gas drillers as one of the few acceptable ways to help balance the budget."

Gov. Tom Corbett, who promised in his 2010 campaign not to increase taxes or fees, has said recently he would consider a fee that helps drilling communities cope with the impact.

The Quinnipiac poll also shows that Pennsylvanians' views of Corbett differ markedly along gender lines as he approaches six months in office.

Pennsylvanians as a whole remain divided over Corbett, with 39 percent approving of the job he's doing and 38 percent disapproving. The numbers are similar to April's poll results.

But men and women have much different impressions of Corbett's performance. Tuesday's results show 30 percent of female respondents approved, compared with 48 percent of men. The 18-point gap is more than twice the 7-point margin in the April 29 poll.

On other issues, the poll found:

— 69 percent support selling state liquor stores.

— 54 percent oppose leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company.

— 70 percent support a wage freeze for state employees.

— 45 percent support layoffs for state employees, while 47 percent oppose.

— 62 percent oppose funding cuts for state and state-related universities.

The telephone survey of 1,277 registered voters was taken in the week that ended Sunday. The sampling error margin is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

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