Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch recently disturbed readers when he revealed that PSERS, the state pension system for public school employees, is invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that has received national attention for its brutal treatment of members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota who are protecting sacred burial grounds and water quality from the company’s proposed Dakota Access pipeline.
The state operates two pension systems, PSERS and SERS, the system for all other state employees. Both funds are loaded with fossil fuel holdings, including those of many of the companies operating right here in Pennsylvania, the ones state employees are supposed to be regulating. Whether or not that potential conflict of interest actually breaches the law, it certainly gives the appearance of impropriety and, at the very least, demonstrates a pro-fossil fuels attitude that pervades our state government.
Twenty-nine of the top 32 investments on the PSERS list are fossil fuel companies, although many others can be found farther down on the list on 1,150 holdings. Of the top ten holdings, nine are fossil fuel companies. Six of them operate in Pennsylvania, including some of the companies that have gained notoriety since the fracking boom began.
Williams Partners, the company behind several controversial pipeline projects including the currently proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline and number 8 on the PSERS list, made headlines in March when it decided to clear trees to make way for its proposed Constitution pipeline. Among the trees Williams cleared were the maple trees the Holleran family in Susquehanna County relied on for its syrup business. Although the scenes were not as dramatic as the images of dogs attacking Sioux Indians in North Dakota, they were plenty chilling. The tree cutters were accompanied onto the Holleran’s property by heavily-armed U.S. Marshals. One particularly iconic photo shows a Marshal with his finger on the trigger of his assault rifle and a pistol on his hip standing next to a school bus full of frightened young children looking out the window at him. Just weeks after the tree clearing, on Earth Day to be exact, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State was denying Williams a permit necessary to construct the pipeline. The trees were felled for nothing.
Number seven is MPLX. While that name might not ring any bells with a lot of Pennsylvanians, plenty would recognize the name of the company’s new wholly-owned subsidiary, MarkWest, best-known for its processing operations. The ethane it is producing in southwestern PA will be sent to Texas via the ATEX pipeline operated by Enterprise Product Partners, number 2 on the PSERS list, incidentally. Such is life in the incestuous world of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. No better example of that exists than that of MarkWest’s relationship with Sunoco Logistics, who, sitting at number 11, just missed a spot on the top ten list.
Ethane produced by MarkWest will arrive in Scotland in the coming weeks. It is the first shipment of ethane to leave Marcus Hook near the Pennsylvania/Delaware border with much fanfare by Governor Tom Wolf. The ethane got there via Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East pipeline. The Mariner East project has shown Sunoco Logistics to be a bullying company that has played fast and loose with the rules. The company appealed to the PUC for Public Utility Corporation status so it could legally invoke the eminent domain it had been threatening landowners with for months. By the way, if you’re familiar with how eminent domain works and wonder how it is that a private company shipping gas overseas for big profits can use eminent domain without having to demonstrate that its use provides a public benefit, you’re not alone.
Before the Mariner East pipeline was completed, Sunoco Logistics announced Mariner East 2. Although Sunoco Logistics has not received the necessary permits from the DEP to complete the project, the company did some premature tree cutting of its own in March when it cleared trees on the Gerhart’s property in Huntingdon County. The Gerhart family became forest stewards of the wooded area of their property when they first moved there in the 1980s. Elise Gerhart sat in one of the trees for three days to try to save it while her mother, Ellen, and other protesters on the ground were arrested.
Oh, did I mention that Sunoco Logistics is owned by Energy Transfer Partners?
Pennsylvanians Against Fracking has put together a chart to show some of the more notorious companies to appear on the PSERS/SERS lists of holdings.
PSERS - $192,368,776/5,053,028 shares
SERS - $18,588,234/5,148,231 shares
Parent company of Sunoco Logistics.
PSERS - $131,083,657.3/9,122,036 shares
SERS - $8,542,955/621,758 shares
Parent company of Sunoco Logistics.
PSERS - $90,915,728.32/2,624,588 shares
SERS - $8,029,076/949,399 shares
Company felled trees on Holleran’s property for Constitution pipeline that failed to get required permits after the trees were gone.
Also behind Atlantic Sunrise and Transco.
PSERS - $56,205,560/1,954,976 shares
SERS - $6,152,119/1,647,181 shares
Company sought Public Utility Corporation status from PUC to invoke eminent domain to build its Mariner East pipelines. ME1 was an upgrade project that has been completed. Hazardous liquid gas products are being exported via Marcus Hook in Philadelphia, providing no local benefit required in order to be granted the power of eminent domain.
Company cut down trees on the Gerhart family’s property in Huntingdon County for its unapproved Mariner East 2 pipeline.
PSERS - $37,055,369.61/1,713,147 shares
SERS - $8,090,613/1,353,656 shares
Parent company of Williams Partners (see above) and WPX Energy (see below).
PSERS - $34,787,264.22/1,702,754 shares
SERS - $1,641,827/121,707 shares
PSERS - $20,412,287.94/194,718 shares
SERS - $24,763,665/1,615,238 shares
PSERS - $17,903,140.64/395,912 shares
SERS - $3,423,819/105,223 shares
Recently purchased Columbia Pipeline (see below). (These are the same folks who wanted to build the Keystone XL pipeline and are suing the U.S. government for $15 billion because they can’t.)
PSERS - $13,672,810.51/536,399 shares
SERS - $3,394,103/1,296,237 shares
Parent company of Columbia Pipeline Partners (see below).
PSERS - $12,265,812.3/905,226 shares
SERS - $1,226,687/196,900 shares
PSERS - $9,224,908.12/418,553 shares
SERS - $4,499,302/412,780 shares
Parent of Rice Midstream Partners (see above).
PSERS - $5,620,175.96/119,122 shares
SERS - $690,274/720,000 shares
PSERS - $5,290,980/352732 shares
SERS - $2,532,800/144,897 shares
Lied to FERC that it had received permits from PA it had not as part of EastSide Expansion project. Cleared trees operating on Notice to Proceed from FERC that resulted. PA DEP was asked to intercede. Issued permit instead.
PSERS - $5,066,158.9/91,745 shares
SERS - $18,805,101/832,479 shares
PSERS - $3,222,853.92/87,984 shares
SERS - $2,178,564/91,001 shares
Parent of Spectra Energy Partners (see above).
PSERS - $3,157,884.38/40,789 shares
SERS - $1,928,629/62,391 shares
Fined $4.5 million for impoundment leak. Appealed the decision. State Supreme Court ruled that appeal can go forward. (Both funds also have significant holdings in EQT’s midstream business).
PSERS - $2,599,508.34/100,991 shares
SERS - $1,264,835/71,500 shares
Company responsible for contamination of several private water supplies in the small town of Dimock, Pennsylvania. The company is banned from further drilling there, but has leased 40% of the land in the county where Dimock sits. The gas they drill there will be sent to Japan via Cove Point, Maryland if the Liquefied Natural Gas export facility there is completed.
PSERS - $909,195.98/97,658 shares
SERS - $150,979/26,303 shares
Drilling side of Williams’ business after split. It is the company that tried for months to remove the water buffalos that hold replacement water the Mannings and another family in Susquehanna County. After several failed attempts, the company announced that it would come for the buffalo days before Christmas. Pressure from environmental groups and investors forced the company to back down.
PSERS - $548,016.3/12,010 shares
SERS - $376,260/9,204 shares
Parent company of Cabot Oil & Gas (see above).
PSERS - $199,951.29/46,827 shares
SERS - $842,925/1,024,070 shares
SERS - $548,163/22,274 shares