POLITICS:

Governors' speeches targeted for anti-fracking demonstrations

This winter may mark the height of demonstrations against hydraulic fracturing, if only for the convenience of numerous 2013 kick-off speeches from elected officials across the country.

As governors use their State of the State addresses to set policy agendas for the year, residents gather outside to put their own priorities forward. Today in Michigan, activists are making their way to Lansing for a cold protest outside tonight's address from Gov. Rick Snyder (R). Organizers are pushing for an all-out ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking is a well stimulation process that blasts sand, water and chemicals deep underground to loosen up trapped oil and gas, especially in shale formations. Michigan policymakers are learning to manage growing interest in the state's Antrim Shale, just as other states assess their own resources and adjust regulations.

And activists worried about environmental protection and landowner rights are jumping on every chance -- lease sales, votes in legislatures, administrative hearings -- to make sure they are being heard. A statewide address is one of those prime opportunities, one organizer said.

"I know a lot of people pay attention to what the governor is saying at the State of the State," said LuAnne Kozma, a founder of the grass-roots group Ban Michigan Fracking. "It's just a time that is a good time for the people of the state to gather in Lansing and make others aware of pressing issues that are important to everyone statewide.

"Fracking is one of those issues -- a lot of people don't know about it yet," she added.

In New York, nearly everyone knows about fracking. Environmentalists in the Empire State have been engaged in the most high-profile anti-fracking effort to date, pulling in celebrities like Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Mark Ruffalo, as the state draws out its decision on whether to lift its current moratorium on the unconventional drilling process.

Activists were out in force at Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address last week. Though the governor sidestepped the issue in his speech, hundreds of demonstrators lined the halls of an Albany convention center to pressure Cuomo to throw out the state's ongoing fracking review process and start over.

Nationally, the environmental group Food and Water Watch has launched a campaign targeting governors with presidential aspirations who lead states where the fracking debate is playing out. Cuomo is on the list, plus New Jersey's Chris Christie (R), Maryland's Martin O'Malley (D) and Colorado's John Hickenlooper (D).

"We need to make it clear, if they support fracking now, their decision will come back to haunt them in 2016," the group says.

Shale drilling issues are likely to crop up in protests outside state addresses in Pennsylvania and Ohio, too, home to the Marcellus and Utica shales. Oil and gas development is already moving swiftly in those states, so demonstrations may be smaller and more specific, focusing on issues such as severance taxes and wastewater injection wells. Those speeches are scheduled for early February.

In Michigan, Kozma said she couldn't predict how many demonstrators would show up for the governor's speech tonight, but she said residents from all over the state were planning to attend. The Lansing forecast for the evening is snowy with temperatures below freezing.

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