In times when oil prices are on the brink of huge increases and radiation leaks from Japanese nuclear reactors seem out of control, natural gas is the latest panacea of energy companies looking for cheap, quick solutions. While energy providers are jumping on the natural gas bandwagon, impact investors are jumping off just as quickly due to environmental concerns like fracking.
Harrington Investments, Inc., an investment advisory firm specializing in socially responsible investing (and my employer), announced today that it is divesting its entire holding in Chesapeake Energy Corporation (CHK) due to the corporation’s poor environmental record and its lack of accountability to shareholders.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Department cited over 40 natural gas well operators more than 900 times for “environmental health and safety” violations. Leading this unworthy group with 109 citations was Chesapeake Energy.
“We have a fiduciary duty to our clients to invest in companies that show a strong commitment to the environment. Chesapeake clearly fails to do so,” stated John Harrington, President of Harrington Investments, Inc. “Chesapeake obviously violates our investment criteria when it consistently and flagrantly violates environmental standards.”
David Caruso of the Associated Press stated that the problem of fracking runs rampant in Pennsylvania, where Chesapeake opperates. In the vast underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania has been the only state allowing waterways to serve as the primary disposal place for the huge amounts of wastewater produced by this removal technique. This has lead to numerous reports of contaminants in the drinking water of residents.
Perhaps the most surprising act by the board occurred in 2008, when CEO Aubrey McClendon was awarded a $77 million bonus even though the stock price of Chesapeake fell 60 percent. Shareholders filed a lawsuit against McClendon, claiming the board of directors ignored the company’s compensation policies. McClendon was able to get the suit dismissed due to a technicality.
The board at Chesapeake Energy also has one of the worst records when it comes to executive compensation,” added Harrington. “Because of their continual disregard for shareholders interests and the environment, we are divesting all 56,025 shares of our clients’ assets in Chesapeake stock, valued at approximately $1.9 million.”
Nowhere is this unabashed political activism more evident than in Pennsylvania, where Chesapeake gave $377,319 in lobbying cash to state politicians from 2007-2009. McClendon funneled $450,000 to gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett via the State Republican Leadership Committee. Since Corbett’s victory, Chesapeake has obtained 839 Marcellus Shale drilling permits in Pennsylvania, more than any other company, and has drilled at 126 sites, making it the second-biggest operator in the region.