A brief positive comment by potential presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton about domestic natural gas and oil production has thrown local anti-fracking activists into a lather and exposed the widening chasm within the Democratic Party over the drilling issue.

Speaking at Hamilton College, the former Secretary of State and former First Lady observed what published reports have already pointed out — that U.S. domestic production of gas and oil would soon surpass that of Russia.

“What that means for viable manufacturing and industrialization in this country is enormous,” she then said, according to the Gannett News Service.

Melinda Hardin of Cooperstown, a supporter of some Democratic political candidates, attended the speech at the campus in Oneida County on Friday and recalled Tuesday that the comment by Clinton represented only a tiny fraction of her speech. Clinton, she pointed out, never endorsed the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

“The speech was a good hour long, and that statement took about 10 seconds, and there is nothing untrue about what she said,” said Hardin.

For numerous people who did not attend the speech, however, Clinton’s positive take on enhanced domestic energy production efforts prompted them to skewer her in web postings, press releases, blogs and emails.

A coalition of anti-fracking groups that includes New Yorkers Against Fracking and Catskill Mountainkeeper released an open letter to the former U.S. Senator from New York, stating: “So is it really so great that we are expanding extreme energy extraction more than ever? No, it’s not. That’s a backward, 20th century belief, and it’s time for you to stop buying and touting the line from big oil & gas.”

Larry Bennett, the communications director for Brewery Ommegang, said Clinton’s comments could “give cover” for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to authorize hydraulic fracturing in New York, while alienating upstate New Yorkers toward Clinton should she launch a bid for the White House in 2016.

“It’s astounding that she would say something so clueless,” Bennett, a political independent, said in an email message to local anti-fracking activists. “Clearly she hasn’t paid any real attention to upstate politics over the past four years — nor has she done any polling.”

Teresa Winchester of Butternuts, a Democratic candidate for the Otsego County Board of Representatives, suggested in an email that those upset with Clinton’s remarks share their thoughts with her.

“Hillary needs to be hearing from us about this,” Winchester wrote. “We don’t need to be talking to each other.”

Former Oneonta Mayor Kim Muller, a Democrat who has long supported Clinton, said the anti-frackers were too quick to pummel the former secretary of state for her comments at Hamilton.

“It’s really unfortunate because obviously Hillary brings more to the table than any other candidate,” Muller said. “I think some people hear things as they want to hear them. They are probably making assumptions, based on what little she has said. She has certainly spoken in favor of alternative forms of energy. She needs to be given the courtesy of addressing a broader energy proposal before they jump to conclusions.”

As for the political impact on Clinton, Doug Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College in Manhattan who has a home in Harpersfield, questioned whether many Democrats who have supported her in the past would drift away from her unless she faces a viable primary contender with a strong “green” stand on energy issues. And right now, he pointed out, there is no such candidate.

“This has not yet become a wedge issue,” Muzzio said. “It’s an important issue, but it hasn’t yet taken on visceral, ideological dimensions” that would rival the peace movement that sprang up during the Vietnam War.

Muzzio said he suspects most Democratic voters would not be put off by a candidate who favors reducing reliance on foreign fuels by stepping up production of domestic oil and gas “with tight environmental controls.”

But local anti-drilling activists have not been shy in presenting their viewpoints to high-ranking officials, as witnessed by their recent protests at President Barack Obama’s visits this summer to Binghamton and Syracuse.

Those opposed to hydraulic fracturing not only cite what they allege is the inherent risk of the the technique but also frequently argue that even domestic production of oil and gas needs to be curbed to contain the release of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

Democrats on the Otsego County Board of Representatives were also divided on their position on whether they would support locating the proposed Constitution Pipeline within the county. Critics argue it would be a magnet for the drilling industry while supporters contend it would result in job growth and provide businesses and schools with a new source of fuel.

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