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Newsday: Shell Oil donation has environmentalists concerned

BY JENNIFER SMITH
Newsday Staff Writer

September 21, 2006, 11:00 PM EDT

Some local environmentalists have accused Shell Oil of trying to buy local support for a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Long Island Sound.

The Shell Marine Habitat Program donated $130,500 to a federally controlled conservation fund whose grants were announced last week. It is the first time the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, which pools federal and private money for Sound-related projects, has received money from Shell, whose Broadwater Energy subsidiary is proposing the gas terminal.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the Shell donation is an example of “greenwashing” — when corporations try to improve their environmental image by giving money to conservation projects. “It’s not about protecting the Sound, it’s about gaining access to owning the Sound,” said Esposito, whose group opposes the terminal.

Esposito and others also asked whether a quasi-governmental organization should take grant money from Shell when Broadwater will be seeking approvals from federal agencies for the proposed LNG terminal.

Shell Oil spokeswoman Destin Singleton responded with a written statement: “Shell chose to provide funds to the Long Island Sound Study based on the program’s proven success. This initiative continues a long history with our partner, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, of supporting important marine habitats in the U.S.”

The foundation, a private nonprofit created by Congress to convey federal grants to environmental groups, has worked with the oil giant since 1998 on restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico through the Shell Marine Habitat Program.

The foundation also administers the Sound Futures Fund, which is now in its second year and awards money to applicants through grants.

The $130,500 donated by Shell to this year’s nearly $900,000 fund will help restore eelgrass meadows, train volunteers for local whale and sea turtle surveys, and protect piping plover nesting spots.

Staffers from two of the five New York groups that received money from Shell said they saw little connection between Broadwater and their grants.

“It’s consistent with our mission — the protection of birds in their habitats,” said Al Caccese, director of conservation and government relations for Audubon New York, which received $17,500 from Shell. “We don’t believe that we’re beholden to anyone based on the receipt of this grant.”

But some groups that did not receive Shell funding said they were surprised that the oil company’s donor status was not publicly disclosed until the grants were announced.

“When you have an issue like Broadwater, the source of funding should be carefully considered,” said Kyle Rabin, executive director of Friends of the Bay, an Oyster Bay group that received $36,000 in non-Shell grants from the fund.

Tom Kelsch, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s director of conservation programs, said in a written statement that groups receiving money from Shell were notified beforehand and all had agreed to accept the funds.

“NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] cut a $500,000 program we had last year,” said Rob DiGiovanni, director and senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. While the $28,000 grant from Shell won’t make up for the federal shortfall, it will help his group — which depends in large part on public donations — continue environmental education efforts that might otherwise fall by the wayside.

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