Some Yale students joined politicians and residents from Calgary, Alberta, on Monday in calling on University administrators to fight allegedly dangerous gas drilling by a Canadian petroleum company with significant Yale investments.
A group of 10 undergraduate and graduate students met on Monday with School of Management professor Geert Rouwenhorst, a member of Yale’s Advisory Council on Investor Responsibility, to ask that the ACIR reommend the censure of the Compton Petroleum Corporation for its plans to drill six sour gas wells less than one mile outside of Calgary’s city limits. Hours before the meeting, representatives from Alberta’s New Democrat Party announced they had asked Yale President Richard Levin in a letter to intercede to stop or limit the company’s drilling, which they said affects some 230,000 people.
With 11 percent of Compton’s shares, Yale is the largest holder of the petroleum company’s stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The University holds approximately $162 million in Compton stock through two investment vehicles, Centennial Energy Partners and Tercentennial Energy Partners.
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the University’s does not believe Compton is doing anything improper.
“We are not aware of any improper activity related to this incident,” Klasky said.
But some of the students who met with Rouwenhorst said the Compton controversy is an important test of Yale’s investment ethics.
“This is an urgent situation, and there’s an opportunity for the University to really step forward as a responsible shareholder,” Undergraduate Organizing Committee member Phoebe Rounds ’07 said. “This is potentially a public health crisis. We’re looking for the University to be responsible, be it in New Haven or in Canada or anywhere else the University has an interest.”
Rounds said the group pushed for an open forum with the ACIR in its meeting with Rouwenhorst, and has started a petition asking Chief Investment Officer David Swensen to pressure Compton executives personally to consider the safety of Calgary’s populace.
The Yale Investments Office declined to comment, but Compton Vice President Derek Longfield said the corporation’s activities are as safe as possible.
“We’ve applied for the most inclusive safety measures ever in a well in Alberta,” Longfield said. “We are regulated probably more than any jurisdiction in the world in this province … we wouldn’t do anything that could harm people.”
But Kirsten Weld GRD ’10, a Canadian native among the students who met with Rouwenhorst yesterday, said she was worried by Compton’s proposed reduction of the emergency planning zone from a radius of 9.3 to 2.5 miles.
“It cannot possibly be safer for more people to have a reduced safety barrier,” Weld said.
Alberta New Democrat Party spokesperson Shannon Phillips said Alberta’s conservative government tends to prioritize drilling at any cost in the Calgary area, but she said the potential benefits of the Compton proposal did not justify the risks to the city she called “the Houston of Canada.”
“This government is committed to extracting every ounce of resources out of the ground, but this one is just too dangerous,” Phillips said.
The six-week hearing on Compton’s proposed drilling is scheduled to end this Friday, and Longfield said he is optimistic that the province’s Energy and Utilities Board will approve the plan by July 1.
Rounds said she hoped the ACIR would act within a week, but Rouwenhorst said that while he appreciated the group’s concerns, he did not yet know enough about the facts of the case, adding that the final decision rests in the hands of Levin and other Yale Corporation members.
“We don’t have a formal opinion at this point because we want to see if there’s anything that requires the attention of the ACIR,” Rouwenhorst said. “Besides, the ACIR is an advisory committee to the Yale Corporation, so we’re not exactly involved in telling the Yale Corporation what to do.”