CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- According to a poll of Central Appalachian voters by a bipartisan research team commissioned by The Nature Conservancy, more than 80 percent of respondents said they would support establishing strong environmental safeguards as a condition for further natural gas development.
Specific actions endorsed by poll respondents include regional planning, science-based protections and guidelines, and requirements to prevent or repair damage to natural areas.
"The Central Appalachian region is at the core of the national debate on how to keep our lands and waters healthy while tapping domestic energy resources," said Nels Johnson, shale gas lead for the conservancy's North American energy program. "This poll affirms that the people living in this region support establishing strong environmental safeguards to protect forests, which are sources of crucial resources like clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, jobs and as places for outdoor recreation."
The poll, conducted by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates (Democrat) and American Viewpoint (Republican), involved interviews with 1,250 voters living in the Marcellus, Utica and Devonian shale regions of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
Of the voters surveyed, 68 percent said they considered Appalachian forests "critical to the economy, and more than 75 percent considered their forests "national treasures."
When offered a choice, 54 percent of the voters polled gave higher priority to conserving forests, natural areas and wildlife habitat than to natural gas development, even if doing so led to higher energy costs.
Ninety-three percent of respondents said they favored requiring natural gas developers, before drilling, to prepare regional plans for locating their wells and pipelines to reduce impacts to wildlife habitat and water resources.
Ninety-two percent of respondents said they felt gas developers should be required to fix any damage caused by drilling, pipeline construction and road building to forests or water quality.
Ninety-one percent of those polled said companies that drill for natural gas should be required to follow guidelines based on sound science to guide decisions about where to locate natural gas wells.
In coming months, The Nature Conservancy will be releasing a scientific analysis of the potential impact of energy development within the Central Appalachian region on natural resources. The conservancy is also developing "a sophisticated tool to aid development companies in making siting decisions for well pads and other infrastructure to avoid and minimize impacts to forests," according to a press release issued on Monday.