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May 22, 2014

Fracking debate follows Obama

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — President Obama could be forgiven for thinking about who had the hottest fastball, Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson, during a stop this upstate village on Thursday. He was just as likely to face the debate over fracking.

Hundreds of sign-holders and protesters were expected this afternoon near the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where Obama was to meet with invited guests to talk about the benefits of tourism, said demonstration organizers.

“We’re thrilled to have President Obama in Cooperstown to see this incredible village and countryside, and to promote tourism to one of the most beautiful places in New York,” said Ellen Pope, executive director of the Cooperstown-based group Otsego 2000, in a prepared statement. “It’s important for President Obama to see that fracking would put the Susquehanna headwaters, our community and our economy at risk and must not be allowed.”

Fracking supporters - from the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York - also planned to show their faces. Natural gas development holds promise for cheaper, cleaner energy, they argue, as well as the economy.

Victor Furman, a coalition field director, said he expected 50 demonstrators to respond to a short-notice appeal. “It’s not the amount of people, it’s the message that we’re bringing,” he said.

Fracking involves using pressurized water, sand and chemicals to coax natural gas and oil from underground shale, and it's use has grown with energy demand. Critics warn of health and environmental dangers.

New York has halted fracking in the state pending a review by health officials, whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo assigned to investigate more than a year ago.

The debate seems to follow Obama's through New York. Both sides demonstrated during a presidential stop last August in Binghamton, where Obama called for reduced reliance on fossil fuels. He didn't address the controversy over natural gas drilling.

Fracking's opponents say drilling would risk tourism and the region's economy, and today's rally was expected to highlight the fact that Obama's past support for natural gas exploration contradicts his promise to address climate change.

In addition to a statewide moratorium, more than 200 New York municipalities have banned fracking, opponents said. More than 1,000 businesses - including many in Cooperstown, as well as the village Chamber of Commerce - have signed on supporting a ban.

“Our business relies on tourism driven by the beauty of the region and clean water and air, which fracking would destroy,” Marc Kingsley, owner of The Inn at Cooperstown, said in a prepared statement. “We urge President Obama to listen to the science and reject fracking, and instead usher in a new age of prosperity powered by renewable energy.”

Opponents are also calling on Obama to direct energy regulators to “stop rubber-stamping pipelines, storage facilities and other infrastructure projects" that support natural gas.

Details for this story were reported by The Oneonta, N.Y., Daily Star.

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