Amid university divestment pledges, undisclosed investments in fossil fuel companies revealed

December 16, 2020

Healy Hall is a focal point on campus. Photo by John Woolley

Georgetown’s 13F-HR report from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in August of this year revealed university investments in Range Resources, PDC Energy, and Antero Resources, three companies with a focus on the extraction of unconventional fossil fuel resources like natural gas and hydrocarbon exploration. 

13-HR forms are for publicly traded securities worth more than $100 million each quarter. Although large parts of Georgetown’s financial records are hidden from the public, the August disclosure amounts to nearly $9.6 million in shares between the three companies. The revelation of the investments come after Georgetown finalized a plan to divest the university’s endowment from investments in the fossil fuel industry in February.

The three companies have a controversial history with public health and safety. Range Resources specializes in exploring and extracting oil and gas in the Southwestern, Appalachian, and Gulf Coast regions. In 2012, Range Resources was ordered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to repair a well that had polluted drinking water in Lycoming County. The company was initially fined nearly $8.9 million dollars, but the department withdrew the fine five years later when regulators settled with the company. 

PDC Energy focuses on horizontal drilling of oil and natural gas in the Wattenberg Gas Field in Colorado and the Delaware Basin in Texas. Early in 2017, PDC Energy was sued by the Trump administration for releasing volatile organic compounds into approximately 86 storage tanks in Colorado following nearly one year of good faith discussions. 

Antero Resources holds nearly 612,000 net acres in two of the largest and highest yield natural gas and natural gas liquids basins in North America, the Marcellus Shale, and Utica Shale, according to the company’s website. In 2019, Antero Resources settled a lawsuit with the Justice Department for nearly $3.15 million and $8 million restitution for wetlands impacted by illegally discharged pollutants in nearly 32 sites for almost a decade. 

Georgetown also holds over 11 million stocks in Turquoise Hills, a Canadian mineral extraction company, according to the 13F-HR report. The company has worked over the last several years on developing the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, which has run several billion dollars over the initial budget, causing a delay in expansion. 

After years of student advocacy in favor of divestment from fossil fuels and during voting on a student-wide referendum, this February Georgetown University Board of Directors pledged to divest from private investments whose main business is the exploration and/or exploitation of fossil fuels by 2030.

“The Investment Office has taken a number of steps to implement the policy, including making no new investments in fossil fuel companies, terminating a relationship with an external investment manager that focused on natural resource companies, and moving additional investments into a passive index fund that excludes fossil fuel producer companies,” according to a university spokesperson in an email to the Voice.

The university offered an explanation for the newly-disclosed investments in the three companies. Because they were no longer working with the external investment manager, the university received shares in kind in the companies for the first time this spring.   As a result, these securities had to be reported in the University’s 13F filing,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice.

The university has pledged to divest from public securities within five years and private investments in under 10 years. The pledge contains an exception to this rule for commingled investments, or an investment where money from different investors is pooled into a public fund. The university has decided to evaluate those instances on a case-by-case basis. These decisions will be guided by the “Socially Responsible Investing Policy,” an approach based on social justice and stewardship that was created following the divestment pledge. 

Nora Scully
Nora was the fall 2023 editor-in-chief. She enjoys cats and dogs of all types and loves using her D.C. Library card.

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[…] few months later, the student newspaper reported that despite this high profile pledge, Georgetown remained heavily invested in the fossil fuel […]