Supporters and opponents of fracking in the political hotbed where New York's natural gas deposit lies lined the route being taken Friday by visiting President Barack Obama, shouting messages for him while trying to pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he weighs whether to allow the practice in New York.
Among the crowd were members of New Yorkers Against Fracking, who aimed to sway Obama's pro-fracking position. The organization feels that the process, which involves injecting huge amounts of water and sand along with chemicals deep underground to unlock gas deposits, is a threat to the environment and public health.
"We hope to show the president that he needs to look at the science and ban fracking across the nation," said group member John Armstrong. "Governor Cuomo is no stranger to anti-fracking protests and we hope he sees momentum building against fracking."
Their signs referenced Obama's famous "yes we can" campaign slogan: "Yes, we can ban fracking."
Meanwhile, pro-fracking groups of business leaders and many of the residents of the long economically distressed Southern Tier were holding a rally and urging Cuomo to take Obama's lead. Obama has pushed the hydrofracking of natural gas trapped in deep shale deposits as a way to boost the economy and make the country more independent from energy-producing nations. The relatively recent boom in drilling in other states that share the same shale deposit as New York — Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — has led to jobs and economic gains.
"President Obama's visit to Binghamton today could have been in celebration of the revival of the Southern Tier," said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York.
"He has often spoken of the importance of natural gas exploration as being critical to our nation's environment and economy," Gill said. "Instead, we must join together again and ask the governor to lift the five-year moratorium here in New York. There is no reason for this abusive delay."
Cuomo met Obama on Thursday in Buffalo for the beginning of the president's two-day tour but didn't venture to the Southern Tier roiled by the fracking issue.
The strongest supporters of what he calls safe drilling for natural gas include the Southern Tier's powerful senator, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Republican whose district includes the Binghamton area. He is a close ally of Cuomo, who has spent the summer pushing job-creation measures in upstate New York but has focused mostly on tourism.
Dan Fitzsimmons, head of the pro-gas Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, said Friday that drilling supporters are having a rally and picnic in a park near Binghamton University, where Obama was to speak.
Opponents waved "Don't frack upstate New York" signs on campus.