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Celebrities Lead Crowd Of 3,000 In Albany Protesting Hydraulic Fracturing

ALBANY (CBSNewYork) -- It's the one political hot potato Gov. Andrew Cuomo dodged in both his budget proposal and his State of the State speech -- to frack or not to frack; to mine natural gas in upstate New York or give in to the vocal opposition driven by big name stars and environmentalists.

As CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday, it was a demonstration unlike any seen in the corridors of power in Albany in some time – 3,000 environmentalists brought together by "Artists Against Fracking" to send Gov. Cuomo a message, and they are continuing the fight.

"Ban fracking now! Ban fracking now!" the mob chanted.

"He has to be brave and take the chance to ask the questions that are difficult, separate from whatever economic carrots are being thrown out there," actress Susan Sarandon said.

"We have to have the courage to stand up and keep fighting," Yoko Ono added.

State-wide, a recent poll shows New Yorkers being against fracking, but only by a narrow margin.

Sarandon, Ono and Sean Lennon weren't satisfied with the noisy Albany demonstration. They went on a bus trip to Pennsylvania to see for themselves what's happened there with fracking -- which pulls trapped natural gas from deep underground by injecting water, sand and traces of some pretty toxic chemicals into rock called the Marcellus Shale.

"When we turned it on it would spit lots of gas out of it. We couldn't even use our stove. We had some much gas coming out of the water, we couldn't use our stove. It was too close to the water," said Matt Manning of Franklin Forks, Pa.

Among the many the artists met on the bus trip were Matt and Tammy Manning, who said fracking in their area contaminated their well water so badly, that every day fresh water is delivered to them by truck. It sits in a big holding tank in their front yard.

When asked if New York should go into fracking, Matt Manning replied, "Absolutely not."

As many as 3,000 protestors gathered in Albany on Jan. 23, 2013 to lend their voices to the ongoing "fracking" debate in New York State. (Photo: CBS 2)

The artists saw hydraulic fracturing – fracking -- up close and personal, and heard a litany of reasons for people to be against it.

"To be here personally and to see the compressor stations and how big they are and see the drills on the horizon and to see the flaming the flares that they have to burn off the excess gas, it's really more horrible than I could have imagined," Lennon said.

But there are two sides to the story. Proponents say it that if Gov. Cuomo gives it the green light in five upstate counties it will bring an economic boom to a depressed area and that it will help end our dependence on imported oil.

"The activists' campaign against fracking is based purely on hyperbole," said Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health.

Ross has studied fracking for some time and said arguments about ground water contamination are incorrect and haven't been verified in studies by the Environmental Protection Agency. He said the process has been done for 50 years "without any instances of widespread water contamination," Dr. Ross said.

Even so, it's been agreed that if fracking does go ahead in New York, the upstate watersheds that provide water to New York City are off-limits.

"I think it's just because of an excess of precaution," Dr. Ross said.

Cuomo has until Feb. 27 to make his decision on whether fracking in New York State should move forward.

What's your opinion of fracking? Do you think New York State should go ahead with it? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

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