Investigation: PA Pension Systems PSERS & SERS Loaded With Fossil Fuel Holdings

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/SERS Investments in Controversial Natural Gas Drilling/Infrastructure Companies Operating in PA

Energy Transfer Partners

PSERS - $192,368,776/5,053,028 shares

SERS - $18,588,234/5,148,231 shares

Parent company of Sunoco Logistics.

Energy Transfer Equity

PSERS - $131,083,657.3/9,122,036 shares

SERS - $8,542,955/621,758 shares

Parent company of Sunoco Logistics.

Williams Partners L P

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.

Sunoco Logistics Partners

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.

Williams Companies

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).

Rice Midstream Partners LP

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

Columbia Pipeline

PSERS - $13,672,810.51/536,399 shares

SERS - $3,394,103/1,296,237 shares

Parent company of Columbia Pipeline Partners (see below).

Talen Energy

PSERS - $12,265,812.3/905,226 shares

SERS - $1,226,687/196,900 shares

Rice Energy

PSERS - $9,224,908.12/418,553 shares

SERS - $4,499,302/412,780 shares

Parent of Rice Midstream Partners (see above).

Spectra Energy Partners

PSERS - $5,620,175.96/119,122 shares

SERS - $690,274/720,000 shares

Columbia Pipeline Prtn.

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.

Royal Dutch Shell

PSERS - $5,066,158.9/91,745 shares

SERS - $18,805,101/832,479 shares

Spectra Energy

PSERS - $3,222,853.92/87,984 shares

SERS - $2,178,564/91,001 shares

Parent of Spectra Energy Partners (see above).

EQT Corporation

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).

Cabot Oil & Gas

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.

WPX Energy

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.

Cabot Corporation

PSERS - $548,016.3/12,010 shares

SERS - $376,260/9,204 shares

Parent company of Cabot Oil & Gas (see above).

Chesapeake Energy Corporation

PSERS - $199,951.29/46,827 shares

SERS - $842,925/1,024,070 shares

Range Resources

SERS - $548,163/22,274 shares

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