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Frankly I believe that the park foundation has moved way out of neutral territory into the realm of international intrigue at the beck and call of the Russians and Arabs. They have lost all credibility with those inclined to follow the science and facts rather than hyperbole and sensationalism based on their vivid imaginations and well practiced sound bites.They(park foundation) sit soundly at the side of those who would like to see all energy exploration and discovery controled by themselves, with the United States riding in the back of the bus far away from the controls. To make wind and solar the centerpoint of our energy policy would mean the end of American prosperity and world leadership. Those who pretend that the park foundation has United States interests and unbiased science at heart are living in Never Never land or perhaps Wonderland with Alice and friends. JLCpulse

By Jon Entine in Forbes Science and Technology 8/27/2014

While science was moving slowly, the Park Foundation moved quickly. By simultaneously funding an interlocking triangle of sympathetic scientists, anti-fracking nonprofits and media outlets, Park helped move along the idea that natural gas is environmentally unfriendly from the activist fringe to the mainstream. The foundation has continued to provide numerous grants (in the range of $50,000-$60,000) directly to Howarth and his research colleagues. And the Howarth argument–fracking releases methane gasses at a rate that makes shale gas extraction more dangerous than coal–despite its dismissal by scientists of various ideological stripes, has taken on immortal life among many progressive organizations that are supported by Park.

(This article is the second in a two-part series on the anti-fracking movement and the Park Foundation.)

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The foundation’s mostly unknown ties to scientists, journalists and activist groups were on display last September in the brouhaha over a methane gas and fracking study that contradicted Howarth’s claims. Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin released a study done in cooperation with the Environmental Defense Fund that found that the national rate of leakage of methane during natural gas production was equivalent to four tenths of one percent of total U.S. extraction, vastly lower than Howarth’s claims. This was the most comprehensive shale-gas emissions study ever undertaken, covering 190 well pads around the country.

“We were surprised at that finding, yes,” I was told by Steven Hamburg, chief scientist for the EDF, who coordinated the independent research, one of 16 the EDF is overseeing. The EDF had thought it might be considerably higher. “In total,” Hamburg said, “the UT study found a leak rate equal to the EPA’s most recent” rate—which is far lower than Howarth’s wildly overstated 2011 guestimate.

The findings were immediately criticized—trashed is a more accurate word—by Howarth and Ingraffea. Ingraffea issued a scathing press release: “Fracking Methane Leakage Study Financed by Gas Industry with Partner, EDF, Deeply Flawed”. Other anti-fracking activist websites, often funded by Park, joined in the criticism. Many quoted an ‘independent critique’ by a heretofore unknown organization, Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSEHE), which portrayed the university and the environmental nonprofit as shills.

UT was quite open in disclosing that the study received industry cooperation as it would have been impossible to conduct the study otherwise, and that was well reported;  but no responsible reporters familiar with EDF’s reputation seriously questioned its independence. Yet no journalists dug deep enough to discover that the widely-quoted physicians group, PSEHE, characterized as “independent” in many stories, was founded only months before by one of Howarth’s co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, with $50,000 in Park Foundation money. It’s mandate was to promote an aggressive anti-shale-gas agenda and it’s creation timed to respond to the anticipated criticism of the EDF study.

This script has repeated itself again and again. In 2011, the New York Times began running a series it called “Drilling Down,” billing it as an exposé of “the risks of natural-gas.” Over the next year and a half, the Times churned out more than a dozen mostly-scathing articles, such as a story asserting that many “insiders” in the natural gas industry harbored serious doubts about the long-term viability of shale gas, but were keeping mum to cash in on the short-term exuberance over rapidly growing reserves. The author, Ian Urbina, quoted Deborah Rogers—portrayed as a “member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas”—as saying “we have a big problem,” appearing to spill the beans on industry corruption.

What Urbina didn’t disclose is that Rogers was not on any official government advisory committee. Rather, as she told me in an interview, she was a former model with the Ford agency and was briefly a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. By the time of the article, she told me, she was raising goats and making artisanal cheeses. Urbina also failed to mention her longstanding involvement with multiple activist organizations, including Earthworks—an anti-fracking group that has received more than $300,000 in Park money in recent years.

A careful review of Urbina’s articles finds no less than a dozen examples of interview subjects being portrayed as independent, aggrieved citizens while they were actually activists linked to organizations funded by Park.

The Times coverage was so widely recognized as blundering and biased that the paper’s public editor, Arthur Brisbane, launched an internal investigation of Urbina’s reporting. In two searing commentaries, Brisbane criticized the stories for painting a complex issue with “an overly broad brush that didn’t include dissenting views from experts who aren’t entrenched on one side or another of the subject.”Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 9.40.40 PM

According to e-mails later produced by the Times at the behest of a Senate investigation, Urbina’s stories relied on sources and background fed to him by the Natural Resources Defense Council—a group that has collected more than $350,000 from the Park Foundation for anti-fracking work and more than $1.5 million in total activist causes in recent years.

Park-supported groups like the NRDC regularly weigh in on many Park-supported projects. In February of this year, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News (ICN) teamed up with the Weather Channel to produce a series of reports on the Texan Eagle Ford shale formation. “Their reporting now shows clearly that Texans in the area of Eagle Ford are having trouble breathing, and regulators are having trouble noticing,” wrote NRDC attorney Kate Sinding in a blog, echoing Park’s views.

“People who suffer the effects of oil and gas emissions have few places to turn for help other than to the politicians and regulatory agencies that are often cheerleaders for, and financially beholden to, the industry,” noted one ICN story.

The series was supported by a $25,000 Park grant “to report and publish articles on…air and water pollution related to hydraulic fracturing,” according to Park’s online records. Many of the sources in the series, as well as the outlets promoting it (the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks, Public Citizen, the NDRC) also received Park funding.

“What they do is have one group write on an issue, another quote them or link to them, and so on,” Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center said to the Washington Free Beacon. “It keeps going until they create this perception that there’s real concern over an issue and it bubbles up to top liberal sites like Huffington Post and from there into the traditional media.”

Roy Park’s legacy

Adelaide Park Gomer and her daughter, Alicia Park Wittink, who is also on the Park Foundation board, are openly antagonistic to natural-gas development, and corporations in general. Today’s foundation has a very different profile from the one Roy Hampton Park left to his heirs upon his death in 1993. In his day, funding went mostly to education, religious organizations, public broadcasting, and conservation—all passions of the founder.

“None of the environmental grants were political,” his son Roy Park, Jr. told me. “We focused on animal welfare, rainforests, marine life, oceans—doing what we could to promote environmentalism. We didn’t focus on causes.”

But Roy Hampton Park’s will left no roadmap of his intentions for the foundation. Soon a rift developed between the younger Roy and his sister and niece. They were out to “save the world,” he said.

Roy’s mother, Dorothy Park, ultimately sided with Adelaide and Alicia, cleaving the Park Foundation in two in 2003. The bulk of the funds stayed with them, while Roy was given a third to start the Triad Foundation with his two children. Like the Park Foundation, it continues to fund education programs at Cornell, but also supports more traditional conservation efforts and some conservative causes, which he believes are more in line with his father’s wishes.

“My father’s legacy…what he worked for all his life, should not be ignored or refuted,” Roy said, mourning what he sees as the “erosion of his hardworking lifetime ideals” by today’s Park Foundation. “Despite the absence of his intentions for the foundation’s mission in his will, his philanthropic objectives…were evident in the previous 30-year history of its grantmaking.”76945706_135667692488

Roy’s and Adelaide’s views about supporting the environment could not be further apart. While Triad contributes to the PBS show Nova, long a favorite of his father, Park funds propaganda-docs and activist campaigns. Both Gomer and Wittink are well known for their acid condemnations of fracking.

The Park Foundation did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but Gomer has elsewhere said that she believes her father would be proud of what they’re doing. Since he came from farm country in North Carolina, she told EnergyWire, he would never have wanted his home “to be turned into a moonscape, despoiled by hundreds of toxic, unidentified chemicals. … It’s such a dangerous process. [Farmers’ fields] “will be a wasteland. Their animals will die.”

It’s a familiar refrain. “Hydrofracking will turn our area into an industrial site,” Gomer stated in a 2010 petition. “It will ruin the ambience, the beauty of the region. But, moreover it will poison our aquifers. We can live without gas, but we cannot live without water. As a cancer survivor, I am especially concerned about the health repercussions! It is obvious that the 600+, as yet undivulged, chemicals that are used to extract the gas will not promote long healthy lives.”

Her view of fracking is “somewhat like how an Iraqi must have felt in reaction to ‘shock and awe,’” she said in a speech before Common Cause, which in 2011 gave her its Civic Advocacy Award for environmental advocacy in the public interest. (A steady stream of Park grants to Common Cause since 2009, including $100,000 in 2013 alone, helped the group churn out a series of reports about energy industry spending.) “Governor Cuomo might decide to welcome an army of corporate mercenaries to ravage and plunder,” she warned. “Do we want another Love Canal, on a much vaster scale?”

Such hyperbole is a familiar trope to Roy. “I’m not an advocate of scaring the hell out of people with hypothetical self-serving claims in order to take their money or secure political gain,” he wrote in his memoir, Sons in the Shadow, which explains in painful detail the breaking apart of his father’s foundation.

Gomer’s foundation regularly sponsors anti-shale-gas shareholder resolutions at the annual meetings of Chevron, ExxonMobil, Ultra Petroleum, and other energy companies. It coordinates with activist groups like As You Sow, which Park supports as part of its belief in “socially responsible investing.” Wittink has served on the boards of the Environmental Working Group, Mother Jones magazine, and the Center for a New American Dream, all nonprofits noted for their anti-shale-gas zeal.

Beyond Howarth’s controversial studies, Park’s support for fracking-related research at Cornell includes gifts of more than $200,000 for “continued evaluation of global warming and other environmental impacts of shale gas.” Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning has also received more than $100,000, resulting in a paper and webinar contending that the benefits of shale drilling are overstated and will ultimately lead to a boom-bust economic collapse. The department produced 13 “working papers” and “policy briefs” with the kind of narrow ideological conclusions one expects from an industry-funded “research center” generating propaganda for hire.

Park also funds fracking research at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Sandra Steingraber, an Ithaca College biologist and activist who has been jailed for civil disobedience and believes shale gas should be the litmus issue for progressives, is another academic recipient of Park money. “I have come to believe that extracting natural gas from shale using the newish technique called hydrofracking is the environmental issue of our time,” Steingraber wrote in Orion magazine, another Park-backed publication.

In terms of splash, among Park’s most successful donations have been those for Gasland, the 2010 Oscar-nominated HBO documentary, the totemic movie of the anti-natural gas movement. The foundation has provided more than a quarter of a million dollars for campaigns to promote the movie and its sequels. Gasland made the rounds at Sundance, Berlin, Tokyo and Cannes, helping to ignite the backlash against shale gas. They feature what are now iconic images of homeowners setting tapwater ablaze, implying that methane in their wells is the result of fracking.

But flaming faucets and fiery springs caused by leaking methane have existed in gas-rich regions for decades before fracking arrived on the scene. Investigations conducted prior to the films’ release found that the Colorado man whose kitchen faucet lit up Gasland 1 had the misfortune of drilling his water well into a preexisting methane pocket, and the Texas man whose garden hose became a torch in Gasland 2 knowingly had hooked the hose up to a gas vent rather than a water line.

The U.S. Geological Survey and other sources have pointed to dozens of other misrepresentations in the films, yet the Gasland movies are now staples at anti-fracking organizing meetings and are regularly shown in thousands of public-school classrooms as if they are objective journalism.

Who’s David, who’s Goliath in the fracking battle? 

A lot of noise has been made by anti-fracking activists about the deep pockets of the energy industry. They have a point; the energy companies behind shale glass exploration have revenues in the billions of dollars. What they don’t have is a dedicated army of thousands of activists who know how to exploit the web and the media establishment that leans heavily against Big Energy.

Anti-fracking activists draw upon a sizable financial war chest of their own. Although the Park Foundation has taken the lead in funding these groups, it’s not alone among major philanthropies. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy has reported, Google chairman Eric Schmidt has set up a family fund to rally the public against shale gas, and the Chorus Fund has amassed $40 million for the same purpose. The Heinz Foundation has handed out some $12 million in recent years, mostly to stir opposition in Pennsylvania, where shale-gas extraction has proceeded with bipartisan support.

The 11th Hour Project gives about $3 million in annual grants to feed “grassroots” anti-fracking campaigns, targeting California, Maryland and New York. It also supported the Gasland series. Others pouring anti-fracking money into the Marcellus region include the New York Community Trust and the Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment, which spent a reported $3 million over the past year. A survey in 2012 by the Health and Environmental Funders Network, a grantmakers group opposed to fracking, found its members gave $18 million to block shale-gas development. “The actual dollar figure is probably higher than that,” HEFN director Kathy Sessions told the Chronicle.

Tom Shepstone of Energy In Depth, an industry-backed group that supports shale-gas extraction, estimates there are about ten environmental “pressure” groups on the ground in upstate New York alone, most funded by Park. (Other donors like Michael Bloomberg and the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation have taken a very different approach to fracking, offering grants to research and promote smarter safety methods and regulations.) Natural gas supporters, particularly landowners whose property values are frozen as the conflict drags on, say Park money is targeted to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in free media publicity, echoed in cyberspace and social media. Its impact is far more influential, they believe, than the bumbling lobbyists for industry used to buying Congressmen dinners in Washington.628x471

Park’s escalating largesse has brought increased scrutiny to the foundation, which had operated below the radar for many years. Gomer and Wittink dismiss a spate of recent critical articles as manufactured by industry and right wing zealots peddling conspiracy theories. After all, they claim, gas lobbyists have spent tens of millions of dollars in lobbying efforts in Washington and elsewhere. But those figures are belied by data on OpenSecrets.com. The largest natural gas industry group, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, spent $1.9 million lobbying in 2013, a fraction of Park’s efforts.

The Park Foundation has not responded to my requests for an interview, but Jon Jensen has responded to the questions about Park’s philosophy to other reporters. “The industry has tried to characterize the foundation as special-interest money,” he told Mike Soraghan of Environment and Energy in 2012. “But we’re responding to what’s coming at us.”

“The opponents of this are not NIMBY, and the opponents are not wealthy,” Adelaide Gomer also told E&E. “They don’t have second homes. These are people who have children. They’re people who really care about the beauty of New York State.”

Philanthropists have a right to support causes of their choosing. The Park Foundation has been very savvy in getting its funding into the hands of three levels of actors with a capacity to influence the policy debate on natural gas: academics, activist groups, and reporters/filmmakers/bloggers.

This is a “David and Goliath situation,” says Dan Fitzsimmons, the southern tier landowner. “Only we, the people of upstate New York, are David. And Goliath is a multi-million-dollar foundation with one goal—to hang a virtual ‘do not disturb’ sign around the elites.”

“My father’s legacy is not one to be forgotten and what he worked for all his life should not be ignored or refuted,” Roy, told me, echoing the words in his memoir. “I was sensitive to erosion of his hardworking lifetime ideals, and despite the absence of his intentions for the foundation’s mission in his will, the philanthropic objectives that best reflected in the interest of my side of the family were evident in the previous thirty-year history of its grant making.”

Roy, Jr. is a gracious man, who has refused to publicly criticize his sister, who he no longer speaks to. But there is anger in his quietness.

“I know more than most people about the nature of nature and feel I have a rational understanding of the environment,” he added. “I’m not a radical environmental activist like the “Angry Young Man” in Billy Joel’s song, “with his fist in the air and his head in the sand.”

Gomer rejects these characterizations as conspiratorial thinking. “In our work to oppose fracking, the Park Foundation has simply helped to fuel an army of courageous individuals and NGOs,” she has said.

For a relatively small investment, strategically distributed, with an appreciation for how media and college researchers and local activists can interweave their efforts, the Park Foundation has almost single-handedly derailed shale-gas development in methane-rich New York state, and put its imprint on public opinion and policy decisions around the country. Whatever one thinks of the cause, the tactics are impressive. And the results of Roy Hampton Park’s failure to stipulate into the future the causes he wanted his money to support ought to be instructive to others.

*    *    *

JON ENTINE, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication and STATS (Statistical Assessment Service) at George Mason University. You can follow @JonEntine on Twitter, and find more on biotechnology, genetics and science literacy at the Genetic Literacy Project.

 

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