Anti-fracking activists will converge Saturday on the village of Sharon Springs when a 65-year-old Buddhist nun takes the first step in a planned 50-mile trek timed to end at the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday.
At the end of the journey, Jun Yasuda will join a demonstration against gas drilling near the state Capitol, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo will deliver the annual State of the State speech.
People on both sides of the drilling debate say they do not expect Cuomo to avoid the controversial topic. He has assigned State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to study the health impacts of hydrofracking, and Shah said last month he does not know when his review will be completed.
Sharon Springs Mayor Doug Plummer said he is pleased that Yasuda chose Sharon Springs as the place to begin her walk.
“This is quite an honor,” said Plummer. “I think this is going to get the attention of the governor and the powers that be in Albany.”
Yasuda, who lives at the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburgh, Rensselaer County, is a veteran of marathon walks to promote social justice and to protest against nuclear weapons and slavery in Africa. In 1978, she along with Native American activists participated in the “Longest Walk,” beginning in San Francisco and winding up in Washington, D.C. That was just one of several times she walked across the country to promote peace, her supporters said.
Elliot Adams of Sharon Springs said he expects other activists in the anti-fracking movement will join Yasuda for portions of her walk. Adams said while fracking may initially bring the appearance of prosperity to a region, that burst of activity is not sustained, and environmental problems inevitably crop up.
“We know that boom economics is a bad form of economic growth,” he said.
A pro-drilling gas industry executive, John Holko, said if Yasuda wants to make a point about her disagreement with shale gas extraction, she could start by giving up driving in gas-fueled vehicles and heating her home with wood instead of petroleum products. Hokko, the president of Lenape Resources, called the walk a publicity stunt.
“But if she has a problem walking around out there in the freezing cold, I’d be willing to drive over and help her out,” he said with a laugh.
Yasuda could not be reached for comment. Don’t Frack Sharon member Mike Shuster of Sharon Springs, whose group successfully pushed for drilling bans in the town and the village, said he believes Yasuda’s walk will “raise awareness to the hazards of drilling for natural gas. The science (to suggest that fracking can be done without serious risks) isn’t there.”
Shuster said Yasuda is expected to take overnight shelter in local homes during the walk to Albany.
While Yasuda is completing her walk Wednesday morning, three busloads of local drilling protesters will be heading towards the state Capitol as well. Those bus trips are being coordinated by Otsego 2000 in Cooperstown, and the vehicles are slated to leave from Oneonta, Cooperstown and Sharon Springs.