Ray Kemble knows he probably won’t be able to tote his well-traveled jug of discolored well water inside Lackawanna College this afternoon to show President Barack Obama.
The Dimock Township resident would rather have the president detour his tour bus off Interstate 81 into the Susquehanna County community to see for himself what Kemble and other residents maintain natural gas extraction has done to their water supplies.
“I want him to come to Dimock. That’s what I am hoping for,” Kemble said Thursday.
That’s a long shot, Kemble concedes.
But he and other gas-drilling activists from across the region, including the Dallas-based Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, will gather outside the college in hopes they can encourage the president to put pressure on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reopen its investigation into natural gas drilling and drinking water contamination around Dimock.
Obama’s two-day tour of New York state and Pennsylvania is aimed at promoting the president’s education plan, but the growing debate over fracking seems to be the number-one issue on the minds of demonstrators who turned out at some New York stops — including a sizeable contingent in Syracuse, according to media reports — and who are expected to descend on Scranton today as well. Coalition member Scott Cannon, of Plymouth, said hundreds of protesters from both states are expected to participate in a rally before Obama’s 4:55 p.m. speech in Scranton.
While fracking is legal in Pennsylvania, it has been subject to a de facto five-year moratorium in New York, where Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said it is important first to question whether its economic benefit is outweighed by potential environmental and health impacts. Obama, meanwhile, has been broadly supportive of the process.
Kemble is among several drilling-region residents who have tickets to attend the Scranton speech and will be inside the college venue. Whether Obama takes note of anti-fracking protesters in Scranton, Kemble’s message is expected to reach the president’s hands earlier in the day, via the hands of another Democratic politician.
Binghamton, N.Y., Mayor Matt Ryan plans to present the president with a letter outlining his concerns about fracking during a town hall meeting at SUNY Binghamton prior to Obama’s stop at Lackawanna College — supplemented by letters from Pennsylvania and New York residents, including Kemble, a spokesman confirmed Thursday.
“The mayor is very concerned about what the industry has done to that area,” said Kyle R. Seeley, Ryan’s executive assistant. “He does not want to see another Dimock here.”