“You realize there’s got to be money coming from somewhere.”
In the fight against shale gas drilling, it seems all roads lead back to a low-slung brick building in Ithaca, N.Y.
Inside is the office of the Park Foundation, where a staff of eight has underwritten the rock stars of the anti-drilling movement.
Josh Fox, maker of the Oscar-nominated anti-drilling documentary “Gasland,” got $175,000. Robert Howarth, the Cornell University professor whose research first questioned the belief that gas is cleaner than coal, got $35,000. Duke University professor Rob Jackson got $50,000 to continue his work on methane in drinking water.
Cornell, a leading recipient of Park’s largesse, has emerged as the academic bastion of resistance to shale drilling, or “fracking,” as it is often called. And New York state, where Park focuses its grants, has put up more resistance to the shale boom than any other state. A de facto moratorium has kept rigs out of the state.
“In our work to oppose fracking, the Park Foundation has simply helped to fuel an army of courageous individuals and NGOs,” or non-governmental organizations, said Adelaide Park Gomer, foundation president and Park heir, in a speech late last year.
Since 2008, the foundation has given at least $2.8 million to groups and publications fighting shale drilling, showing that drilling opponents do have financial backing.
“You realize there’s got to be money coming from somewhere,” said Dan Fitzsimmons, president of the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, a pro-drilling group, “but we never dreamed of anything like this”…
The foundation’s endowment, buffeted during the recession, now stands at about $300 million. For the past few years, the foundation has spent $17 million to $20 million a year on philanthropy. The lion’s share of that money goes to education — scholarships and other funding at Ithaca College in Park’s hometown of Ithaca, and his alma mater, North Carolina State University. Another foundation, spun off in 2002, now handles scholarships at Cornell.
Park also puts significant money every year into media — NPR and the Society of Environmental Journalists have gotten money — in addition to the academic and environmental grants.
But the foundation’s focus increasingly has become the fight against drilling…
“Park funds headlines, pure and simple. It funds activities most likely to generate the most attention in the press,” said Chris Tucker, spokesman for Energy in Depth, a project funded by oil and gas companies to fend off expanded federal regulation of drilling. “It doesn’t fund the hard stuff, the time-intensive, rigorous stuff. And that explains why they’re able to do what they do on only a couple million dollars a year”…