Georgetown University has previously invested millions of dollars in three American fossil fuel companies with track records of violating environmental regulations and polluting the communities they operated in, according to previously confidential investment information disclosed to the federal government this summer.
Federal financial records also revealed a gradual increase since fall 2019 in the university’s share of a Canadian mining company whose principal investment is the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in southern Mongolia.
Most of the university’s investments are shielded from public view, and the details of the university’s investments in fossil fuels — long a source of criticism from students and environmental activists — have been shrouded in mystery. Recent investment information reported in a summer public federal government filing, however, sheds light on previously undisclosed specifics about the university’s financial stakes in fossil fuel corporations.
Public Georgetown 13F-HR investment reports from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission released in August disclose previously unlisted university investments in Range Resources, PDC Energy and Antero Resources, three companies that specialize in the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels.
13F-HR reports, which disclose publicly traded securities, provide a snapshot of the state of university investments at the end of each fiscal quarter. These reports are federally mandated for the management of accounts that meet or exceed $100 million worth of investments during a yearly quarter.
The university’s 13F-HR filing from the second quarter of 2020, which runs from April 1 to June 30, reveals Georgetown owned a total of 1,952,604 shares, valued at almost $9.6 million, from the three corporations.
Investments in the three companies do not appear on any prior Georgetown 13F-HR reports, which date back to February 2018.
The university owned 3,904,298 million shares worth $1.855 million in Turquoise Hill Resources, the majority owner of Oyu Tolgoi mine, in November 2019, according to the school’s 13F-HR filing published that month. Georgetown currently owns 11,194,219 million shares in the mining company valued at around $9.44 million, according to the most recent filing published in November 2020.
The university adopted a “Do No Harm” investment policy in 2017, which precluded the university’s investment office, in principle, from making any investments in projects that have an “extremely deleterious effect on the environment.”
Contaminated water and surrounding soil from open-pit gold mining has disastrous effects on the environment, according to peer-reviewed studies. Mercury, hydrogen cyanide and sulfide emissions from mining operations can pollute the air and contaminate waterways. A decrease in human health and unsafe livestock consumption are also directly correlated with open-pit mining.
The Oyu Tolgoi mine, a combined open-pit and underground mining project, is one of the largest copper mines in the world.
A university spokesperson declined to provide any specifics about Georgetown’s financial relationship with Turquoise Hill.
In February 2020, the administration pledged to initiate divestment from fossil fuel companies and halt any new investments in that sector. When asked why the fossil fuel company investments only appeared on the university’s June 13F-HR filing, a university spokesperson said the university took on investments previously managed by an outside investment manager.
“In the first quarter, the University terminated a relationship with an external investment manager that focuses on public natural resource companies,” the university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Investment Office opted to receive shares in kind rather than have the manager liquidate certain positions during the turbulence of March this year.”
The university spokesperson declined to clarify exactly when the stocks were transferred from the external investment manager and when the university initiated positions in the companies listed.
“The University does not disclose specific information regarding investments in the endowment portfolio,” the spokesperson wrote.
The spokesperson said the university plans on divesting from all of its public and private fossil fuel assets within the next 10 years, as outlined in the university’s divestment pledge.
The university’s third-quarter 13F-HR filing indicates Georgetown has not yet sold any shares from the three fossil fuel companies or Turquoise Hill since the second quarter of 2020.
The 13F-HR filings do not specify when the university began making investments in the companies mentioned, and the forms can not provide a detailed history of the university’s finances, according to 13F-HR filing experts who spoke with The Hoya.
It remains unclear why stocks for the three companies did not appear on the 13F-HR filing for the first quarter of 2020 if they were transferred to the university in March.
The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this matter.
Founded in 1976, Range Resources explores and produces petroleum and natural gas. It operates drilling infrastructure in the Appalachia and the Gulf Coast regions of the United States. The Fort Worth-based corporation produces approximately 2.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily, according to a recent company investor presentation.
In 2014, Range Resources paid over $4 million in fines and settlements to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection after a fracking fluid spill. The spill contaminated water sources in the southwestern portion of the state with toxic chemicals such as arsenic, toluene and benzene, according to The New York Times. Three years earlier, Range Resources and two other companies reportedly paid a Pennsylvania family $750,000 to cease any mention that Range Resources had destroyed their property for private fossil fuel development, according to NPR.
Georgetown owns 1,056,221 shares in Range Resources worth close to $7 million as of November 12, 2020.
A spokesperson for Range Resources did not comment on the company’s relationship with Georgetown but said the company has adopted a “robust approach to sustainability” with efforts like carbon offset and recycling water.
The second fossil fuel company listed on the SEC filing, PDC Energy, produces nearly 6.2 million barrels of oil daily, according to an internal news release published in August. PDC concentrates most of its operations in the Wattenberg Gas Field in Colorado and the Delaware Basin in Texas.
In 2017, PDC Energy paid over $22 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which alleged that storage tanks at PDC facilities in Colorado violated state and federal pollution statutes. In a separate incident four years prior, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission fined PDC after approximately 84,000 gallons of fracking solution poured out of a storage well, contaminating the surrounding groundwater, according to a study from Colorado State University.
Georgetown owns 131,860 shares in PDC Energy worth over $1.6 million as of November 12, 2020.
A spokesperson for PDC Energy did not respond to a request for comment.
Antero Resources, which explores and produces natural gas, oil, propane and ethane, encountered similar legal troubles because of its operations. Antero Resources generates approximately 3.77 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, according to the company’s 2020 third-quarter highlights. Based in Denver, Antero Resources is the country’s third-largest producer of natural gas, operating primarily in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Antero Resources paid over $3.15 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2019. The settlement surrounded the unauthorized disposal of fracking substances into local waterways, according to Reuters. In 2016, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection fined Antero Resources nearly $100,000 for waterway pollution caused by a pipeline installation, according to Marcellus Drilling News, a news website focused on shale.
Georgetown owns 764,523 shares of Antero Resources valued at over $2 million as of November 12, 2020.
A spokesperson for Antero Resources did not respond to a request for comment.
Unlike the fossil fuel companies, investments in Turquoise Hill appeared on previous 13F-HR filing forms. Turquoise Hill investments first appeared on the university’s public SEC filings in November 2019, revealing that Georgetown held 3.9 million shares of the Canadian mining company. Turquoise Hill, whose only material asset is the Oyu Tolgoi mine, is a subsidiary of the Rio Tinto mining conglomerate. Ninety-five percent of the population in the South Gobi Desert region in Mongolia, where the mine is located, is at risk of drinking contaminated groundwater polluted by residue from Oyu Tolgoi mining operations, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Water and Health. In a separate 2018 study, researchers at the National University of Mongolia found that levels of arsenic and copper in the soil surrounding the mining area significantly exceeded the maximum permissible level set by the Mongolian government, which holds a 34% share in the mine.
Local herders in the area observed that mining activities put more pressure on existing water supplies, which are already limited in the region. The World Bank issued a report in April 2010 before the mine’s construction indicating that the region’s groundwater reserves would be exhausted between 2020 and 2022. The report suggested the development of the Herlen-Gobi and Orhon-Gobi pipelines for importing water to the region because of the preexisting exploitation of water resources from increased regional economic activity such as mining.
…and the Confidential
The university’s investment office manages existing shares of Turquoise Hill and the three fossil fuel companies. Select members of the board of directors, the Investment Office and the asset managers chosen by the Investment Office manage the university’s roughly $1.9 billion endowment. The board’s nine-member Subcommittee on Investments oversees the operations of the Investment Office.
Investments in Antero Resources, Range Resources, PDC Energy and Turquoise Hill belong to the roughly $63 million in assets disclosed through 13F-HR filings, which currently account for around 3.3% of the university’s approximately $1.9 billion in endowment investments. The general public is only privy to these domestic public holdings, which the university must disclose to the SEC every quarter.
The administration issued its fossil fuel divestment pledge in February 2020 after years of pressure from student organizers, who demanded the university take concrete steps to protect the environment. Approximately 90% of Georgetown undergraduates expressed support for divestment in a student referendum pioneered by GU Fossil Free, a student-led campaign for divestment.
When the university pledged to divest from fossil fuels, around 5% of the university’s endowment was invested in fossil fuels, a university spokesperson told The Hoya at the time, amounting to approximately $95,000,000 in investments. The university’s investments in Range Resources, PDC Energy and Antero Resources would have accounted for around 10.5% of the $95 million tranche.
The university did not reply to any questions regarding the lack of information for the remaining $1.8 billion and what independent policies are in place to ensure the Investment Office follows through on its divestment promises.
Hoya Staff Writers Jaime Moore-Carrillo and Connor Thomas contributed reporting.