In Michigan, the Only Thing Food & Water Watch is Watching Is Their Till

I was struck recently by the rather direct fundraising efforts of one of the natural gas opposition groups operating here in Michigan, especially in contrast to a much more positive type of fund-raising being done by the Michigan oil and gas industry and the state’s Department of Natural Resources (more on that later).  I’m speaking of a group known as Food & Water Watch.

F&WW has established a presence here in Michigan by appointing an Education & Outreach Director, who recently sent out a letter trying to increase its membership.  Here are a few excerpts that appear in this one-page appeal:

“Become a Member”

”Make a monthly gift to join the Food & Water Action Partners”

“Become a Monthly Sustaining Member of Food & Water Watch”

”That’s why I’m asking you to support our fight for the long term by becoming a monthly sustaining member of Food & Water Watch.”

“…sign up today to make a monthly tax-deductible gift by credit card. Your card will be charged automatically each month. This provides a dependable source of income that we can use to stop fracking, wherever it’s needed most.”

“Will you help by making a monthly tax-deductible gift of $20 to become our newest Food & Water Action Partner?”

”…we’re looking for 200 people to sign up today to kickstart this new program.”

”Will you join us by starting your monthly gift today?”

”Join the movement to protect your food and water”


That’s 10 fundraising appeals in a single 500 word email.  Eight of those link directly to either the group’s general donations page or its monthly donations program.  I’m not sure, but I get the distinct impression that this group really wants your money. But for what, exactly?

Food & Water Watch took in $11.5 million in 2011, according to its 990 tax return, which is roughly five times what it raised in 2006. It spent $5.2 million on salaries and fringes that year (at least five executives make over $100,000 per year), some $564,000 on fundraising and another $1.4 million on something called “other” (see page 10 of the return).

The group’s funding comes from a variety of sources, including $810,000 over the last decade from something called the Park Foundation, an Ithaca, New York, based group that specializes in funding anti-gas initiatives.

With all this money – and pleas for folks to send them even more – what is Food & Water Watch up to in Michigan?  According to the group’s Michigan Facebook page, it spent a lot of time promoting  Global Frackdown, which garnered less than 200 supporters from across the state – so that didn’t work out so well.  It did, however, generate one silly “occupation” by self-impressed protestors, who naturally had all of their facts wrong.

The organization also opposes the sale of mineral rights owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), encouraging protesters to participate in a public hearing held on September 16 and to protest the auction scheduled for October 24. DNR is proceeding with the auctioning off of state-owned oil and gas lease rights from more than 195,000 acres in 22 Michigan counties on that date.  These oil and gas lease auctions, which have been held in Michigan since the 1920s, occur twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, and will proceed despite Food & Water Watch’s efforts to derail the event.

Best of all, the sale of state oil and gas leases and the royalties from these leases will continue to directly fund the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which has generated well over $500 million dollars for state recreational property since its inception.

One of F&WW’s major overarching goals is to promote state and local bans on natural gas development.  The organization has a Fracking Action Center web page dedicated to this cause, and it also maintains a map of communities that enacted “local measures against hydraulic fracturing,” the lower Michigan portion of which is depicted below.

F&WW indicates a statewide ban is pending (see our earlier story on that quixotic effort).  It also claims a dozen communities are “lobbying their governments to ban fracking.”  A detailed review of the above map indicates these include the following:

  1. Wayne County – Passed resolution supporting statewide and national ban.  This county, which includes Detroit, has no economic recoverable shale gas.
  2. Detroit – Passed resolution supporting statewide and national ban.  Detroit, too, has no shale gas.  It also much bigger problems to worry about it, having lost 25% of its population between 2000 and 2010.
  3. Ferndale – Passed resolution supporting statewide and national ban.  This is another Detroit metro area community with no significant natural gas and a population that has declined by a third in the last several decades.
  4. Southfield – Passed resolution supporting statewide and national ban.  This is still another Detroit suburb with no significant natural gas.
  5. West Bloomfield – Passed a resolution opposing natural gas exploration under its lakes and a 6-month moratorium we previously analyzed.  Once again, this suburban community is losing population, but is in much better shape than any of the above.  It does have economically recoverable natural gas resources.
  6. Waterford Township – Passed a resolution encouraging legislative and regulatory action on oil and gas development.  This is yet another suburban community near West Bloomfield that is falling behind in terms of growth.  It does have some natural gas.
  7. Ingham County – Passed resolution supporting statewide and national ban.  This county includes the state capitol of Lansing.  It does have natural gas resources, but is largely an urban area where little development is expected.
  8. Orangeville Township – Passed a resolution supporting a statewide ban.  This is a suburb of Grand Rapids and is also losing population.  It has some shale gas but is a residential community.
  9. Yankee Springs Township – Passed a resolution supporting a statewide and national ban.  This is another shrinking population suburb of Grand Rapids.
  10. Burleigh Township – Passed a resolution supporting a statewide and national ban.  This is a tiny community of less than 800 people that is also declining in size.
  11. Reno Township – Passed a resolution supporting a statewide and national ban.  This is another very small community of less than 700 people and dropping in size.
  12. Cross Village Township – Passed a resolution supporting a countywide and statewide ban.  This is very tiny community of less than 300 people, located well outside shale gas areas

So, what do have?  We have a handful of communities, most of which have little, if any, likelihood of shale gas development, that have passed meaningless resolutions.  None are truly growing and some, such as Detroit, welcome any issue on which they can take a pointless stand to divert attention from serious issues they’d rather not talk about.  Interestingly, most of these communities could actually use the economic boost natural gas development would provide.

The only healthy community in the list with any serious potential for development is West Bloomfield, my home town, and, as we explained earlier, their action is unlikely to be sustained upon legal challenge. Whatever Food & Water Watch has accomplished with these bans may not be much in terms of operational significance, but it sure helps for fundraising purposes!

There’s another reason not to take these resolutions seriously.  John Locke, the philosopher, said “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”  If so, the natural gas use by the communities who adopted these resolutions pushed by Food & Water Watch, among others, speaks volumes.  Census data indicates the following with respect to natural gas use by Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing metropolitan area households:

An astounding 86 percent of households in the three metro areas that account for the overwhelming majority of residents in those communities that have passed resolutions, use natural gas in their homes.  Given that much of the electricity generated in the state is also generated with natural gas, it’s readily apparent nearly nine out of 10 households in these areas use the natural gas their elected leadership says ought not to be produced in Michigan.  Add to this the fact 90 percent all oil and gas wells today are hydraulically fractured and it becomes fairly obvious Michigan consumers aren’t about to buy what F&WW is selling – except when it really doesn’t count, as is the case with these resolutions.

Yet, it does contribute to the organization’s till doesn’t it?  That seems to be what it’s all about with Food & Water Watch.  Meanwhile, state oil and gas lease sales will continue a total different type of fund-raising; one that raises money for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.  This source of public revenue has been so successful, the fund has now reached its constitutionally mandated cap of $500 million and produces excess funds that help pay for other conservation programs.  This funding initiative, largely financed from Michigan oil and gas development, has allowed the state to give out $919 million in grants for these combined programs since their inception.  Check out the results:

Now, that’s fund-raising, and Food and Water Watch didn’t help, not even a little.



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