This spring, I had the chance with a group of concerned Yale undergrads and graduate students to meet with K. Geert Rouwenhorst, the Chair of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, the body which advises the Yale Corporation on ethical investing (among its weaknesses, the body doesn’t actually have any access to information on the majority of Yale’s investments). We were calling on ACIR to convene to critically assess Yale’s investment in Compton Petroleum’s bid, under debate at the time before local government, to dig sour gas wells in Alberta without a sufficient evacuation plan in the case of a hydrogen sulfide leak. Unfortunately, contrary to the New Democrat Party’s David Eggen stated confidence that “Yale will agree and as a shareholder will want to put people over profits,” ACIR declined to act. The most memorable part of that meeting, not only for the rhyming and meter but also for its unintentionally ironic encapsulation of the weakness of an all-too common regulatory model, was this quote from Professor Rouwenhorst, “If it’s still being debated, no social harm has been created.” The catch-22 here is clear: No regulation to avoid social harm is possible until after there’s been social harm.
Sadly, as Phoebe points out, right now another oil company which claims Yale as a significant investor is providing an all-too vivid example of what that social harm looks like. As Qatar’s Gulf Times reports:
Bangladesh is losing huge sums worth 6mn taka ($100,000) a day as the blaze at the Tengratila gas field in Sunamganj district continues despite a heavy rainfall. Reports said it was gradually going beyond control. Sources said Niko, the Canadian oil exploration company exploiting the field, did not take any step to extinguish the fire even after five consecutive days of the second blow-out at Tengratila gas field. World famous Canadian gas experts like Bob Merge and Milan, who reached the site two days ago, failed to control the fire and did not give any solution to Niko in this regard…It will take 10 to 15 more days to start drilling of a new relief well. The whole matter depend on Unocal’s rig, officials said.
The Tengratila gas field inferno is spewing out flames as high as 250 feet, burning about 50 to 60 mmcf of gas worth 6mn taka daily and causing unprecedented environmental disaster. “We have no idea when it would stop”, Mahmudur Rahman, adviser to the Energy Ministry said after visiting the Tengratila blow-out area. He said, “We need to ‘kill’ the well first, which means we have to dig a relief well first, and how quickly we do it is crucial; it needs time to procure a rig.”
The blow-out has also caused tremor in the area damaging houses and forcing panic-stricken people to leave their homes. The accident site presents a dismal picture of shrivelled or burnt leaves on the plants. The local residents are bracing for the worst…The energy adviser said that help of Unocal, a US company operating in the country’s three other gas fields, would be sought to bring the flames of Tengratila under control…Local experts say even if the rig is procured time would be needed to start the work on the relief well at Tengratila. “To design a relief well pad involves tough and huge engineering work and if it is designed in a hurry then another accident might occur,” they opined.
Below is a photo of another gas well leak in Tengratila from January. Maybe this is the point where ACIR could take an interest?