Most voters in Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District are knowledgeable about the development of the Marcellus Shale and more of them than not support that development.
However, more people believe drilling should be limited due to potential impacts in the environment than the number of people who believe economic impacts outweigh environmental concerns.
Those statements are according to a survey conducted by the Lycoming College Polling Institute of the college's Center for the Study of Community and the Economy.
The survey, conducted by political science students under the direction of Dr. Jonathan Williamson, showed that half of the respondents view shale development as beneficial to the community and 28 percent said it will have a negative impact.
About 22 percent had no opinion about shale development.
A vast majority of the respondents - almost 80 percent - said they followed news about shale development somewhat closely or very closely.
"Respondents were relatively knowledgeable about the issue and more supportive of the development of natural gas than not," said Williamson, who is center director and chairman of the college Department of Political Science.
Job creation was at the top of the list of the potential benefits of gas exploration in the region, with 78 percent of respondents saying the creation of many jobs was very likely or somewhat likely to occur.
Slightly more than 70 percent expect gas exploration to spur economic development and about 60 percent said it may reduce America's reliance on foreign energy.
Less than half of respondents expect shale development to result in lower energy costs or taxes, with 47 percent and 33 percent of them, respectively, offering those viewpoints.
Threats to water supplies - 57 percent - and damage to roads by gas industry trucks - 56 percent - were at the top of concerns related to shale development.
Also of concern are risks to the health of those living near well sites, 40 percent; risks to the beauty and health of forests, 33 percent; jobs not going to local workers, 30 percent; and impacts on affordable housing, 30 percent.
Far more respondents - 45 percent - favored a severance tax, compared with 18 percent who opposed it. About 37 percent said they were undecided about the tax.
Almost 80 percent of the respondents said that if a severance tax is levied, most of the money should go to local governments to deal with gas industry impacts such as road maintenance and industry-related public safety.
Only 10 percent said a tax should go to the state's general fund to help balance the budget. Slightly less than 10 percent said they favored a combination of the two options, had no opinion about the tax or wanted the tax revenue to go elsewhere.
A vast majority of respondents - 56 percent -said they opposed forced pooling legislation compared with 11 percent who favor it. More than one-third of the respondents said they didn't know enough about the issue to have an opinion.
More than half of those surveyed said they had signed a gas lease, had a family member sign a lease or knew somebody who had done so.
Williamson said 370 people responded to the survey.
Questions were developed for the survey with no preconceived notion as to the pros and cons of shale development, he said.
"It was simply to facilitate the conversation," Williamson said. "My goal was to just get people talking."
Williamson said there has been a lot of information presented about shale development, but to his knowledge, the survey is the first that "asks the public what they think."
"This is not an 'end all,' " Williamson said of the survey, "but I believe it gives us our first understanding of where public opinions lie regarding the Marcellus Shale."
He said the survey yielded some surprises. Although it was expected water quality issues would top the list of concerns, truck traffic impacts, which ranked a very close second, was less expected, he said.
The number of people who said they did not know enough about a severance tax - 37 percent - to have an opinion about it also was notable, he said, particularly because the tax has become such as big part of conversations about shale development.
Some parts of the 10th Congressional District are not astride the Marcellus Shale, so it should not be surprising that some respondents had no opinion about shale development, he said.
Asking potential voters to participate in the survey - a professional service was used to identify district residents with a track record of voting - may have resulted in more thoughtful responses to question by respondents, Williamson said.
"It may imply people who are not registered voters may be less likely to be engaged," he said.
Williamson said the survey shows that while people are hopeful about the economic benefits of shale development, they also have "healthy reservations about the potential negative consequences as well."