College purchases $66 million in oil and gas fund

by Ruben Gallardo | 4/11/18 2:05am

On Feb. 8, the College’s Board of Trustees disclosed 26 holdings in their U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission Form 13F filing, which included shares from the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Explore & Production exchange-traded fund valued at $66,615,000. Also known as the Information Required of Institutional Managers Form, the Form 13F is a quarterly filing the SEC requires from institutional investment managers with over $100 million in equity assets under management.

The College’s holding in the S&P Oil & Gas ETF was the largest in monetary value disclosed in the SEC filing. The quarterly report also included holdings in firms such as Amazon, Apple, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Pattern Energy Group, an independent renewable power company.

The objective of the S&P Oil & Gas ETF is to “provide investment results … that correspond generally to the total return performance of the S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Select Industry Index,” according to the official site for financial products from State Street Global Advisors.

Based on an April 2016 report commissioned by College President Phil Hanlon on the considerations of divesting the College’s endowment from fossil fuel assets, the College directly held approximately $43 million in fossil fuel-related assets at the time the report was released. More than 95 percent of that amount was held in working capital pools, which usually consists of the capital of a business that is used in its day-to-day trading operations. Only $2 million of this investment was reported to be held in the endowment.

In a statement released in May 2016, Hanlon said he had begun to review a report he commissioned on the considerations involved in divesting the College’s endowment from fossil fuel-related assets “as [he] determine[s] the steps that Dartmouth should take to help address” climate change. Since then, Hanlon has not released any further statement on the proposed fossil fuel stock divestment.

In addition to the fossil fuel divestment report, the College also generated an overview of reasons for and against fossil fuel divestment. According to the short document, direct action by an institution of learning “has important value in raising awareness of the problem of climate change.”

On the other hand, the document also said that Dartmouth has the opportunity to positively address climate change through its education and research efforts, and that limiting investments restricts “the ability of Dartmouth to deploy resources against research and education initiatives.”

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement that the College does not comment on its investment strategy “beyond the information in the endowment report.”

The College’s 2017 endowment report stated that Dartmouth “takes a long-term orientation in its capital allocation and portfolio management decisions.” The report further stated that the College’s main interests include finding global investment opportunities with “superior return potential” while remaining aware of the risks that may result from this orientation and concentrating investments where conviction is high.

Leehi Yona ’16, one of the founding members of Divest Dartmouth, said that the College’s decision to invest in companies dedicated to finding and exploring new fossil fuel reserves is “reckless.”

“The biggest message that I get from Dartmouth when I hear about this investment is that Dartmouth does not care about its students, nor does it care about its future students,” Leehi said. “If Dartmouth cared about future classes, it would not be investing in a stock that profits from climate change.”

Environmental studies professor and Sustainability Task Force co-chair Andrew Friedland said that the College should first conserve and increase energy efficiency on campus before divesting from fossil fuel-related assets. Some proactive measures to consider before divesting could include reducing the consumption of oil at the College’s power plant and investing in renewable energy companies, he said.

According to current Divest Dartmouth member Lily Zhang ’18, the College’s holdings in fossil fuel companies undermine the scholarly work of faculty conducting research on carbon emissions and other intersectional issues surrounding climate change.

“Being a symbol of an investor in fossil fuels is ethically wrong, given all this knowledge we have as an institution on how damaging fossil fuels are,” Zhang said.

Yona said that some of the College’s peer institutions — such as Stanford University and Yale University — also face the same issue of faculty conducting research on climate change while their universities’ endowments include investments in fossil fuel companies. Although the same dilemma occurs on their campuses, Yale and Stanford have partially divested from some fossil fuel companies, according to Yona.

Yona, who recently received the Knight-Hennessy scholarship from Stanford University, added that she agreed to an interview with the College about her award on the condition that her involvement with Divest Dartmouth was mentioned in the news release. She said she was not interviewed nor included in the final article.

“It is clear that the school wants to be able to claim that it’s a leader in environmental issues,” Yona said. “At the same time, [the College] is not willing to put in nearly the amount of work necessary to actually be able to earn that title.”

Reducing carbon emissions at the College could supplement other initiatives, and divestment should not be the only option for the College to address climate change, Friedland said. He added that these efforts could include divestment from fossil fuel companies in the future, when it is more practical.

College chief investment officer Alice Ruth ’83 declined to comment. As of press time, Sustainability Office director Rosi Kerr and assistant director Jenna Musco did not respond to requests for comment.