VESTAL — As President Barack Obama made his way to Binghamton University for a town hall on Friday, he received a loud introduction to the contentious debate over hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Hundreds of hydrofracking opponents lined the campus road where Obama’s motorcade through on its way to the University Union, wielding signs and chanting loudly as the president stood next to the driver of his large, armored bus.
Further north on Interstate 81, landowners hung giant signs along a chain-link fence visible from the highway in Binghamton’s Otsiningo Park, where they’ll picnic and snack while touting their support for Obama’s pro-drilling stance.
“President Obama needs to listen to the science, which shows that fracking contaminates water, pollutes the air, makes people sick and spells disaster for the climate,” said Isaac Silberman-Gorn, an organizer for Citizen Action New York.
Anti-fracking protesters chanted “Ban fracking now” as Obama made his way through the main campus loop shortly after noon. About a half-hour before, they were moved further off the road as Obama wrapped up a surprise visit to a soccer practice at Tully High School, south of Syracuse.
In Otsiningo Park, Broome County landowner Vic Furman parked his 35-foot-long RV near the highway. It featured a giant sign on the side: “Drill a gas well. Bring a soldier home.”
Obama will travel to Scranton, Pa., after his appearance at BU. New York has yet to allow high-volume hydrofracking in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration continues several layers of study on the issue. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has seen active shale-gas drilling since 2007.
“President Obama’s visit to Binghamton today could have been in celebration of the revival of the Southern Tier, as he has often spoken of the importance of natural gas exploration as being critical to our nation’s environment and economy,” Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement. “Instead, we must join together again and ask the governor to lift the five-year moratorium here in New York.”