Opponents of hydrofracking have made any number of arguments against the practice of injecting large quantities of water, sand and chemicals underground to release natural gas trapped in the Marcellus shale. It will mess with the landscape, they say. It will mess with the water. It will mess with the air. Now there’s a new and, to many of us, even more serious claim. Fracking could mess with the beer.
Larry Bennett, who handles public relations for Brewery Ommegang, is one of the organizers of the concert this Friday, May 13, on the 140-acre grounds of the brewery located near Cooperstown. He is bringing Arlo Guthrie, whom he refers to as “the ultimate friendly protest singer” as well as the Levon Helm Band to the brewery grounds to raise money and awareness for the anti-fracking movement in Otsego County and across upstate New York.
“It’s all about the water,” said Bennett.
“We draw our water from the aquifer, right out of the ground. We use a million gallons a year, unfiltered. We just alter the pH a little bit. If they pollute the water, the things they put in it are things we can’t remove.”
The Belgian-owned Ommegang is not the only business in the area calling for the state to prevent gas companies from using the frack method to extract gas. More than 250 companies have joined Ommegang in calling for the state to put a hold on any permits for drilling. The Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce and the National Baseball Hall of Fame endorsed a moratorium on fracking last year. Dozens of breweries, as well as the Cazenovia-based New York State Brewers Association, have signed on to an Ommegang statement, which goes even further, calling for an extended moratorium and an eventual outright ban on hydrofracking.
At the moment there is a statewide moratorium on issuing permits, pending the anticipated June release of a new draft of a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which will be followed by a comment period and public debate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not indicated how he will come down on the issue, which may yet turn into an upstate-downstate brawl, with New York City residents concerned with their water quality opposing those upstate businesses and landowners who see development of the Marcellus shale as a potential gold mine.
Bennett argues that businesses have the most to lose if fracking, already booming in neighboring Pennsylvania, gains traction here. He spoke recently at an Albany rally opposing the drilling. “This is something that affects all of us. It’s not just a tree-hugger issue,” he insisted. “Lots of businesses depend on this water. We all use the water. Business is concerned about this.”
Besides the beer it sells, Brewery Ommegang hosts concerts and considers itself part of the local tourist economy. “We’re a prime tourist destination,” said Bennett. “Forty-thousand people a year come to take part in the brewery tour. If they have to drive by heavy industrial sites and trucks going up and down the roads, I don’t think they’re coming back.
“We are a successful upstate business.
We’ve been here 14 years. We employ 65 people full time. We create jobs in an economy that needs it. We export goods with the name Cooperstown on it to 14 states. We try to be good stewards of the land. If they pollute the water, we will have to do one of two things: We will either have to close, or move.”
In order to keep that from happening Ommegang is turning to Guthrie, whose most famous song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” begins with a tale of how he and his friend dumped a load of garbage illegally in Massachusetts one Thanksgiving Day.
Gates for the Anti-Fracking benefit at Brewery Ommegang, 656 County Route 33, Cooperstown open on Friday, May 13, at 4 p.m.; the show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets, ranging from $40 for general admission to $90 for a donation to $200 for a super donation, can be purchased by calling (888) 512-SHOW, by visiting www.upstateshows.com or by heading to The Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St.
Think Floyd: One of the finest running backs to play for Syracuse University, Floyd Little (photographed in 2008 at the world premiere for the Ernie Davis movie biography The Express) returns to SU as a special assistant in the athletics department.