People around greater Pittsburgh agree Marcellus Shale exploration is both an economic opportunity and to a lesser extent an environmental worry, with those feelings amplified in the natural gas hub of Washington County, survey results say.
In Washington County, 76 percent of respondents said shale exploration presents a significant or moderate economic opportunity, to 70 percent of those in Allegheny and 30 other nearby counties in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Similarly, 58 percent of Washington County residents see it as an environmental threat to 55 percent of those elsewhere.
The findings were broken out this week from the Greater Pittsburgh Quality of Life Survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Urban and Social Research and PittsburghTODAY, a regional statistical study group. The overall study data, the first of its kind in decades, was first released this summer, and the Washington County breakdown was distributed this week.
"In Washington County -- where the Marcellus 'shoe' fits most snugly-- residents believe more strongly in the benefits of drilling, but they also have concerns about environmental effects," Doug Heuck, director of PittsburghTODAY, said in a statement.
Washington County is the epicenter of drilling activity in the region and has hosted the industry longer than any county nearby. The county and its municipalities lead locally in collections of the new shale impact fees drillers pay on their wells, taking in a total of $11.6 million.
It is no wonder that its residents pay special attention to gas issues: According to the survey, almost one-third of the county's residents say they or someone in their family has signed a lease with a drilling company to extract natural gas from their land, as compared to 14 percent of those in 31 other regional counties, and 5 percent in the city of Pittsburgh.
Almost 22 percent of Washington County residents said they had been affected personally by the industry, compared to 10 percent of those elsewhere.
Sixty-two percent of those from the county follow shale issues very or somewhat closely, compared to 54 percent of those elsewhere. The county's residents also are more likely to get that information from neighbors, friends and relatives than those elsewhere, at 65 and 54 percent respectively.
Still, the issue is a big one around the region -- only one in five residents of the 31 other counties say they have not been following Marcellus Shale issues at all.
The findings come from telephone interviews with 2,200 people in the 32-county area, with 430 of them residents of Washington County.
In the county, 18 percent of Washington County respondents said the drilling represents very little or no threat to the environment, as compared to 12 percent in Pittsburgh.