No, they didn’t line the Empire State Plaza concourse this year, chanting and wielding signs as lawmakers and state officials walked to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address.
But a large throng of anti-fracking protesters stood near the entrance to Cuomo’s speech on Wednesday, calling on him to unequivocally ban shale-gas drilling as State of the State attendees walked into the state convention center.
“On a day when all eyes in the state are on Albany, we want to remind Governor Cuomo that New Yorkers won’t back off until he protects us by banning fracking,” said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director of Food & Water Watch.
The protesters stayed in a large, gated area within the concourse, which made it difficult to estimate the total attendance. There were at least several hundred; organizers say there were more than 2,000 at its peak. There were also a few dozen dozen gun-rights activists who were protesting the SAFE Act, the gun-control laws passed a year ago.
Last year, the protesters formed a long line between the Capitol and the convention center, lining the walkway that nearly everyone walked to get to Cuomo’s address. But a series of tourism-themed displays prevented that from happening this year.
Wes Gillingham, program director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, said the large showing represents the strength of fracking opponents.
“Why are all these people here? Because we love New York,” Gillingham said. “We love our communities. We love our farms and our forests, and we do not want that to be destroyed by fracking and a greedy industry.”
To the surprise of few, Cuomo did not make any mention of hydrofracking and shale-gas drilling in his 70-minute speech. Cuomo’s administration continues to weigh whether to lift a de facto moratorium on high-volume fracking in the Southern Tier.
A joint statement from the heads of three Binghamton-area organizations — the Joint Landowners Coalition, the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce and the Broome County Farm Bureau — expressed disappointment with Cuomo’s lack of a fracking mention.
“We are disappointed that the State of the State address once again failed to mention natural gas development as an integral part of a comprehensive plan for Upstate’s economic growth,” the statement read. “Developing natural gas resources is essential to create long-term jobs and economic opportunity in the Southern Tier.”