Business coalition poll says Pennsylvanians support maintaining natural gas as energy source

Energy policy has become a big issue in this year’s political races, as gas prices have risen significantly and questions have arisen about how America produces oil and gas.

Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the country, and a new poll from the business coalition Pittsburgh Works Together suggests that Pennsylvanians want to keep it that way.

When asked if Pennsylvania should ensure that natural gas remains a part of the state’s energy use, 73% said they strongly or somewhat supported the idea and 20% said they strongly or somewhat opposed it, the poll showed.

The poll, conducted Feb. 14-16 by Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 600 voters from across the state and had a margin of error of 4%. Pittsburgh Works is a coalition of building trades unions, energy companies and pro-business groups in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Natural gas has become a political lighting rod in Pennsylvania over the years. Natural-gas drilling has seen varying support in polling, with some surveys showing Pennsylvanians want the practice of fracking to eventually end. The process has raised concerns about water pollution and increased emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Natural gas production and use have grown in the state. According to 2021 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas accounts for 11,825 megawatts of electricity generation, which is nearly double the next biggest source, nuclear power. Facilities that refine natural gas into other products also have grown in Pennsylvania. A multibillion cracker plant is nearly completed in Beaver County that will process ethane from natural gas into ethylene and polyethylene, the building blocks of plastic.

Ken Zapinski of Pittsburgh Works said the group’s polls show there is broad support for natural gas production among Pennsylvanians.

“If I were a policymaker in Harrisburg, I would take the message that voters want more natural gas,” Zapinski said. “We think it’s important to hear what people are thinking and balance it out with other messages that might be louder, but don’t have support of the broader population.”

Natural gas prices began to increase dramatically starting about a year ago. The problem worsened after Russia invaded Ukraine, and countries, including the United States, have cut off Russian imports of natural gas.

The Pittsburgh Works poll also showed Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support energy policies that don’t lead to job losses. When asked about “advancing energy policies that respect the environment but do not jeopardize jobs or reliability of energy in Pennsylvania,” 84% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat supported the idea, compared to 12% who strongly or somewhat opposed it.

Other polling has shown support among Pennsylvanians for a transition to renewable energy, which sets up a fine line for how politicians tackle questions about energy policy. At a forum last Sunday in Pittsburgh, some Democratic Senate candidates spoke about supporting a transition to renewable energy as long as jobs weren’t lost in that transition, while others called for a moratorium on gas and oil drilling. Republican politicians have more fully embraced increased production of natural gas and other fossil fuels.

The Pittsburgh Works poll showed divided support for natural gas, with 74% of Republicans in favor of ensuring natural gas remained in Pennsylvania, compared with 52% of independents and 32% of Democrats.

The poll was part of a presentation from Pittsburgh Works about support for more manufacturing and fewer business regulations in Pennsylvania. It also showed that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support a stronger focus on vocational training, and strong support for cutting Pennsylvania’s corporate income tax.

Author: Ryan Deto
Publication: Trib Live
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