Sunday, April 29, 2012

Foundation Doesn't Care If Drilling Saves Family Farmers

Written by Dan Fitzsimmons and Bob Williams - What has been missed in the debate about the Ithaca-based Park Foundation's advocacy against natural gas development is the object of their opposition. The true targets of the Park Foundation are the people in Marcellus Shale communities of upstate New York. In March 2011, we met with Park Foundation leadership. We were on the hunt for foundations to support the important work of the Joint Landowners Coalition to identify best practices in natural gas development and arm landowners with the information they need to protect themselves and their land. Upstaters saddle their own horses. A self-reliant people, we crisscrossed interstates and back roads through New York and Pennsylvania, learning everything we could about natural gas development. Once confident we could both protect the environment and develop the natural resource below our feet, we informed our membership, made our recommendations to the SGEIS, and set out to clear up a few myths and misstatements guided more by bumper-sticker slogans than research studies. Our meeting with the Park Foundation was cordial, but we heard some things that stung like ice cold water poured down your back. We explained how we wanted to educate folks about environmental protections, water recycling, ways to reduce truck traffic and safe natural gas development practices. We explained how the ad valorem tax could save local schools and fund police. This discussion was a nonstarter. Since that meeting, we've noted artificial opposition from time to time — for example, when Helen and David Slottje toured around the state encouraging towns to ban gas development. Every time we researched an opposition campaign, inevitably the trail back led to a Park Foundation grant. Foundation officials explained that their wealthy patrons were reticent to allow their pristine land to be affected by drilling rigs. We replied by telling them we had thousands of farmers who shared the same affection for their land. We described how the farmers were at risk of losing it all to high taxes and costs hitting up against record low profits — and that these farmers wouldn't allow their farms to be developed unless drilling could be done safely. Noting that they understood the plight of farmers, they replied, "We are aware there will be collateral damage from stopping natural gas development." Thousands of upstaters who toiled all of their lives, some handing down their large or small farms generation to generation, were viewed merely as "collateral damage." And so, with the $3 million budget that the Park Foundation has put into motion to fight hydraulic fracturing, we ask ourselves as a volunteer organization run by farmers and landowners: Is this a fair fight? The JLC has spent thousands of hours researching best practices, understanding technology used by the industry, going to well sites and seeing for ourselves what can and cannot be done safely, and providing information that will enhance state regulations. We are limited by raising funds from our membership, so this is a David-and-Goliath situation. Only we, the people of upstate New York, are David. And Goliath is a multimillion-dollar foundation with one goal — to hang a virtual "do not disturb" sign around the elites. Fitzsimmons is president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York; Williams is a member of the JLCNY executive board and an environmental consultant with 40 years of experience on energy projects.

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