Nearly 30 undergraduate and graduate students donned surgical and gas masks when they gathered outside Yale’s Investment Office Monday to protest a sizeable University investment in a corporation with allegedly unsafe drilling plans.
The students met in front of the Whitney Avenue office to campaign against the Compton Petroleum Corporation, a Canadian energy company planning to drill six sour gas wells less than a mile outside of the Calgary, Alberta city limits. The protestors delivered a petition addressed to Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen asking that he use the University’s 11 percent share of Compton stock — valued at approximately $162 million on the Toronto Stock Exchange — to call for a safer proposal. But Yale officials said the corporation is working through legitimate channels to approve its drilling plans, and Compton spokesmen said their systems are among the safest in the world.
The protestors were not allowed access to the Investments Office, but University Police Lt. Michael Patten said he delivered the petition, which was signed by more than 300 students, alumni and employees. Protest leaders said the action was an attempt to elicit some response from the University’s administration after receiving what they characterized as an inadequate response from members of the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, to whom they appealed two weeks ago.
“It’s been frustrating because there’s been no movement on this at all,” Sam Landenwitsch ’06 said. “There’s no way to have a dialogue at all when the people won’t talk to you.”
Although the Investments Office declined to comment, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said he saw no reason for the University to question Compton’s proposed drilling operations, preferring to leave the decision to the Albertan Energy and Utilities Board.
“I’m aware of no reports that the company has engaged in any improper activity, and how Canada regulates drilling or any other activity is up to the Canadian government and the people of Canada,” Conroy said.
But members of the Alberta New Democrat Party, who sent Yale President Richard Levin a letter asking him to censure Compton’s drilling two weeks ago, called the province’s regulatory agency a “toothless tiger” that was unlikely to seriously challenge the corporation’s proposal after deliberating on hearings slated to conclude this week.
“It’s very close to the industry,” New Democrat spokesperson Shannon Phillips said. “They allow a lot of self-monitoring and that kind of thing. If they’ve decided they want to go ahead with it, they will.”
But while Compton Vice President Derek Longfield confirmed that the regulatory board has asked the corporation to pursue drilling activities, he said community safety is Compton’s “prime concern.”
“There are very strict regulations here, and I think it’s probably difficult for [opponents] to appreciate the length to which we discussed safety concerns,” Longfield said. “We do not expect under any circumstances to have a problem.”
Longfield said Compton’s security plans include dual ignition systems with three backups designed to convert the dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas to harmless sulfur dioxide in case of a leak. These systems, he said, would justify the reduction of the emergency planning zone radius from 9.3 miles to 2.5 miles, and once the wells are depleted in approximately 15 years, the city can expand into the area, he said.
“This is a win-win situation for everybody,” Longfield said.
Final arguments in the Compton EUB hearings will begin tomorrow, and the board is expected to make its decision by July 1. Undergraduate Organizing Committee member Phoebe Rounds ’07 said the protesters plan to continue calling on Yale administrators to press for change before the EUB renders its verdict.
“We’re going to continue to shore up support, but hearings are winding down, so it’s important that we do this now,” Rounds said.