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Californians oppose fracking, but economic perks open door for support

Fracking on the Haynesville Shale near Shreveport, La. (Photo/Daniel Foster, Flickr)

Concerned about environmental and health impacts, California voters are opposed to increased use of fracking in the state, according to the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

About 45 percent of voters were against an increase in the use of fracking in California, and 37 percent supported an increase. Another 46 percent of voters said they would pass an immediate ban on fracking, which could only be lifted by the state legislature, and 42 percent opposed this proposal.

However, voter support for the drilling practice increases once potential economic benefits are mentioned, according to the poll results. More than half (56 percent) of voters said fracking should be legal in California if the additional oil and gas were used to reduce energy and gas prices, with 33 percent still opposed to fracking.

“Voters are very wary of the idea of fracking but when they’re told that it can reduce their bottom-line gasoline cost, they become more open-minded,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “People default into the position of not really wanting it until you inject the economic component into it.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and other chemicals to extract oil and natural gas.

Fifty-eight percent of voters wanted to prohibit fracking in all areas near sources of groundwater, and 52 percent of voters favored offering tax ince-ntives to companies with a track record of fracking safely. Eighty-four percent of voters supported a requirement to inform property owners of fracking near their land.

“The message to the energy sector is pretty clear here: Californians are willing to let you go ahead as long as you’re willing to abide by stricter regulations,” Schnur said. “Nobody here is buying the argument that the federal regulation is enough.”

Opponents of fracking are the most staunchly rooted in their opinions, the poll results showed. When presented with statements both for and against fracking, 49 percent of voters agreed with a ban on fracking in California, saying that fracking benefits big oil and gas companies and poses serious health concerns; 39 percent agreed with this “strongly.”

This includes about 60 percent of minorities in California: 64 percent of black voters, 60 percent of Latino voters and 62 percent of Asian-American voters supported a ban on fracking when presented with a statement about health concerns. By double digits, white voters were much less likely to want to ban fracking despite health concerns, with 43 percent supporting a statewide ban.

In contrast, 33 percent of voters agreed with a statement to allow fracking to continue in the state, saying that it is already subject to federal regulations and would create tens of thousands of new jobs in California; 22 percent of voters agreed with the statement “strongly.”

Thirty-eight percent of white voters agreed with the statement about the economic benefits of fracking and would want the practice to continue in California, compared to 19 percent of black voters, 24 percent of Latino voters and 24 percent of Asian-American voters.

When asked about the creation of state-specific regulations in California on fracking, 43 percent of Republican voters supported fracking in the state with additional regulations that would hold companies accountable, 33 percent said it should continue without new regulations and 16 percent supported an outright ban. Among Democratic voters, 41 percent said they would support fracking if there are new regulations, 11 percent said the practice should continue as is and 37 percent supported a ban. Among voters with no party preference, 39 percent supported fracking with new regulations, 18 percent said no additional state regulations were necessary and 34 percent supported a state ban.

Regionally, support for fracking was strongest in the Central Valley, which sits on the Monterey Shale formation and a potential 15.4 billion barrels of oil that would require fracking to be tapped. Sixty-nine percent of voters in the Central Valley said fracking should be legal, and 24 percent supported a statewide ban. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where support for fracking was the weakest, 50 percent of voters said fracking should be legal and 38 percent supported a ban.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted on May 27 to June 2. The full sample of 1,500 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available here.


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Californians oppose fracking, but economic perks open door for support

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