Appalachian Basin

Park, Food & Water Watch Leading Natural Gas Misinformation Campaign in NY

The tiny group of extremely wealthy special interests seeking to influence Governor Cuomo’s and the New York State DEC’s decision on natural gas development in New York just keeps asserting itself in new ways with a massive effort to derail any hope for the Southern Tier’s economy.

We’ve spent the last few days focusing on the recent push by those opposed to natural gas development to win support in Upstate New York in the (hopefully) weeks before a decision is made on the SGEIS document and regulations governing natural gas development in the state. Organizations outside of New York have funded a trash mailer sent to tens of thousands of residents across the Marcellus “target region.” They’ve also organized an email petition asking for signatories from across the world and, as we’ll delve into further, spent significant money on a recent  television commercial designed to scare New Yorkers.  While the two former examples have been misleading at best, the commercial could be considered the most outrageous in what it doesn’t tell viewers about the funders of this initiative and the discredited claims of the  individuals it features.

Funded from Afar, Touted as Local

The previously mentioned TV commercial is being distributed by New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF), a coalition of groups with an advisory panel including Lois Gibbs, Sandra Steingraber, Natalie Merchant and Mark Ruffalo.  It’s one of the groups to whom Steingraber donated some of her Heinz Endowment money, and interestingly since it is not an incorporated organization, it funnels donations through Food & Water Watch, a  Washington, D.C. based group intent on blocking natural gas development everywhere. This, we might add, is the same organization that funded the commercial that is currently airing in New York and Albany.

We’ve discussed Steingraber and the various artists against natural gas development before, but what about Gibbs? Gibbs’ claim to fame was work she did to help bring about knowledge of Love Canal while living in Niagra Falls, NY. She now runs the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ), which is also a member of New Yorkers Against Fracking. But Lois is no longer a New Yorker and her foundation isn’t located in the state either. She and her husband, the only paid employees for her foundation according to its 2011 990 form, are now Virginia residents, which is also where the foundation is located.

Now, bear with us for a moment while we show how interlaced the funding against natural gas development is in this movement to block the Southern Tier’s chance for a much needed economic boost.

The CHEJ receives portions of its funding from other foundations prominent in supporting the anti natural gas movement, namely the Park Foundation, the NRDC and the Rockefellers according to their 2011 annual report.

CHEJ-donors

The Park Foundation is Everywhere it Seems

Who else receives money from at least one of these organizations? The Park Foundation’s footprints are everywhere it seems.  This political organization that pretends to be a charity funded not only NYAF, but also the NRDC ($85,000 in 2012) and one of the Rockefeller entities ($25,000 to the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in 2012). But let’s focus on just the Park Foundation’s support of NYAF.

There are only a few groups on the NYAF members list who received grants in 2012 directly from Park because most are unincorporated coalitions but they provided big bucks to the entities carrying the load.  Those members who received direct Park funding included, for example, Grassroots Environmental Education, Inc. which was given $15,000 for “education and outreach activities in New York on public health concerns related to fracking.”  The Catskill Mountainkeeper also received $30,000 to “complete and release a study on the health impacts of gas drilling and for general support for its work on gas drilling issues in New York State.”

Then there was the big ugly gorilla – none other than Food & Water Watch.

Their main funding from Park this year, totaling $165,000, was directly related to fighting natural gas development in New York and was specifically for NYAF.

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Food & Water Watch also received $125,000 this past year for a “national water campaign to prevent the private control of water and protect and conserve the nation’s water resources,” which may or may not relate to the topic of natural gas.

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That’s all in addition to $520,000 or more the Park Foundation has given Food & Water Watch in previous years.  Talk about tentacles!  So, you have a coalition claiming its working with all of the volunteers across New York who are opposed to natural gas development in a sort of grassroots manner, receiving $165,000 from another organization out of Washington, D.C. who gets its funding from a foundation whose name seems to crop up in every “follow the money” discussion on the anti natural gas movement.  Are you still with me?

New Yorkers Against Fracking Donations Go Directly to Food and Water Watch?

Food & Water Watch then uses Park’s money, or Steingraber’s, or the donations from its members to fund this TV commercial. Why would Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C. fund this commercial?  Oh right, because all donations made to NYAF actually go to Food & Water Watch.

When you click the “Donate” button on NYAF’s website, you’re then taken to Food & Water Watch’s website.

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My head’s spinning a little from all of this but let’s summarize.  NYAF members from Virginia and elsewhere have put their collective name on the release of a commercial, funded by D.C. based Food & Water Watch, who handles the money for NYAF and receives it’s funding to organize NYAF from the Park Foundation out of Ithaca.

The commercial is airing in Albany and New York City. It’s no mistake these areas are well outside of the likely developable region of the Marcellus Shale. After all, they are designed to urge the residents of these areas to tell Governor Cuomo not to allow natural gas development on land owned by residents in upstate New York who will never see the commercial unless they look it up on YouTube.  A case can be made, this is a story about wealthy elites trying to keep Upstate New York in “pastoral poverty” by using falsehoods to appeal to other residents. The same residents who use the natural gas Upstate New Yorkers want to help produce for them. In fact, it seems residents across the state are being manipulated by the select few individuals who run these foundations to advance their personal agendas.  It seems New York residents are merely pieces on the chessboard, or “collateral damage” in their eyes.

Anecdotal Stories from Compelling Unnamed Sources

Terry Greenwood. Image from Observer-Reporter

The commercial itself is a compilation of statements from Pennsylvania residents describing their experiences with the natural gas industry. Viewers are only shown snippets of these “atrocities” happening over the border. No names, tests or any other background is provided. Just so called “horror stories”.  All viewers “know” from watching the commercial is something is wrong and supposedly it’s the natural gas industry’s fault.

It’s an interesting tactic seen time and again. Use an anecdotal story that invokes fear and don’t provide any facts so the claim can spread across the internet and other gossip circles quickly.

Of course, that strategy gets difficult when the faces cease being nameless and you can check to see if the claims bear any resemblance to the truth as found by regulators and independent reviewers. You know, the folks whose only goal is to seek the protection of the environment each and every day.

Let’s take a look at one of the individuals in the commercial, some of whom we happen to recognize by face as they are well known in anti-natural gas development circles. Let’s begin with Terry Greenwood since he announced the commercial at the organization’s press conference.

Greenwood says a vertical, non-Marcellus conventional natural gas well drilled in 2007 by Dominion Exploration and Production contaminated his water and killed his cows.  That means it didn’t involve high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which is, supposedly, the entire point of the video – stopping HVHF.  One has to wonder how the story even got included, considering natural gas opponents are always arguing the HVHF process is so new and different, but, then again, images of dead animals sell, right?  It’s compelling – until you know the facts.

What actually occurred with the cows?  Well,  as it turns out, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did some tests and the Greenwoods simply didn’t like the results.  According to media reports, testing showed the following:

DEP told the couple the rash of deaths was “the luck of the farmer,” Greenwood’s wife, Kathryn, said. The agency attributed the deaths to E. coli bacteria in the pond from fecal matter, which can cause ocular problems in fetal cows.

Who is Craig Stevens?

Who is spreading the word about the commercial? Former Californian, and now Susquehanna County resident, Craig Stevens, who has been traveling all over New York, quite literally, making it up as he goes. Here’s the video of him at the press conference from this article.

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Stevens opens up his speech by talking about his natural gas lease with Chesapeake. He’s brought it up many times since November 2010, when he complained to the Associated Press, which didn’t do much in the way of investigating the claims made.

Stevens’ alleged grievances are many and various; (1) that his grandmother leased her property without his knowledge (even though it was hers to lease), (2) that she was allegedly taken advantage of (even though she was paid market value at that very early stage of development before production in the area was proven), (3) that he wasn’t offered a lease of his own on the tiny 1/9th ownership in the property that he stood to inherit (we’re told attempts were made to contact him but no one knew where to find him – he obviously wasn’t looking in on grandma very often) and (4)  that the offers made to him were too low (even though he actually signed a market rate lease eventually).  In short, it really depends on where and to whom he is speaking to, the only constant being that none of his accusations are grounded in reality.

Here are a judge’s finding regarding some of his many disputes, as relayed in an August 2011 Susquehanna Independent article (emphasis added):

Judge Seamans also stated in the opinion that no medical evidence and testimony was given that described Price’s physical or mental condition before, during or after the trust was restated…“Instead… the Objectors (Craig and Wayne Stevens, Laurie Strawn) in this case have relied on nothing more than the limply supported assertions by the Objector, Mr. (Craig) Stevens, himself,” the judge continued.

This is what’s left of Steven’s allegation that Chesapeake took advantage of his elderly grandmother; the one on which he has built his entire campaign against the development of natural gas in Pennsylvania and New York: absolutely nothing.

His latest accusation against Chesapeake, which he made in a recent Rolling Stone article where, coincidentally, he also brought up his grandmother, is the company has illegally dumped waste on his property, which is an absolutely false statement for which he is unable to offer a scintilla of evidence.

Stevens-RS

He then goes on to discuss Cabot and Dimock, bringing up the original consent order, but never mentioning the final test results. You know, the ones where DEP and EPA declared the water safe in Dimock? He never mentions the right to resume activity in the 9-square mile area Cabot has been granted by DEP after meeting requirements of the consent order.

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Stevens flies an American flag upside down at his home, a Naval symbol for SOS and a blatantly disrespectful use of the flag.

He also fails to mention, while discussing another alleged issue, this time against WPX in Franklin Forks, that testing showed natural gas matching the signature of that found in nearby Salt Springs State Park where methane has been recorded seeping since the late 1700’s. Nor does he mention the mechanical failure of that home’s well, which, oh by the way, the DEP and WPX have not been allowed by the homeowner to fully investigate.

Why does he leave out, when he describes the Heavenly Angels store in Franklin Forks, their water tests, and his trespassing notice from the owners?  He doesn’t bother to explain they are still open or that the owners have an order against him because he was harassing them.  Why is that?

Perhaps he’s hoping, when all these pre-existing issues come to light, he’ll have a market for the Kangen water treatment system he was peddling a few years ago when we first met him. The system uses electrolysis to purify water.  If you’re wondering about that, here is what one group of researchers notes:

The claims put forth by manufacturers and sales representatives of these devices are without validity. They do not refer to standard physical, chemical, or biological water treatment processes.

Therefore, several researchers have conducted performance evaluations of the equipment.

Consumer fraud plaintiffs throughout the United States are finding sympathetic courts as judgements against the sellers of electromagnetic treatment devices who use false product claims. Minnesota’s Better Business Bureau issued a “consumer alert” warning people to beware of these questionable devices.

Regardless of why NYAF has chosen Stevens as a spokesperson or why Stevens has made it his mission to travel across the state, admitting in the video he’s made several trips to Albany in the last few weeks, it doesn’t change the fact the commercial is misleading; from who sponsored and funded it, to who it features and who is working to spread it far and wide.

There are a lot of outside and inside special interests trying to push their viewpoints on New York, Governor Cuomo and the DEC, and one can only hope the years spent gathering scientific evidence to successfully regulate this industry will not be clouded by individuals and organizations hoping to keep New York in the dark.

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