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Princeton's fossil fuel holdings are not just an abstract concept

<h5>The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authorsviews alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

Princeton won’t disclose how much money it invests in fossil fuels. Unlike at public universities, students and other affiliates of the University cannot see how Princeton invests its $26 billion endowment. However, research by Divest Princeton has uncovered that the University may directly own a majority stake in an oil and gas services company. In light of the fact that fossil fuel companies are responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is unacceptable that Princeton invests in and profits from the industry. Princeton’s ownership of and investment in companies like Petrotiger undermines the integrity of its research and its purported intention to serve humanity. 

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Princeton's 2018 and 2019 990 Forms — Internal Revenue Service forms that the University must submit as a non-profit — show that it owns a stake in three entities under the conspicuous name “Petrotiger” (Petrotiger I, Petrotiger III, and Petrotiger IV). 

In digging to find out more about Petrotiger, we encountered a company sometimes listed as “PPPCO Petrotiger,” short for “Peter Paul Petroleum Company Petrotiger.” In 2017, PPPCO became Posse Resources. According to its LinkedIn, Posse is a “private oil & gas company” and “currently manages a diverse portfolio of onshore assets across the U.S., with a concentration in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.” Petrotiger I and Petrotiger III are currently registered to Posse, and Petrotiger IV  is registered to Peter H. Currie, Posse’s CEO. All of the companies are based in Houston, TX. 

As additional confirmation of the linkages, an objection filed in a Bankruptcy Court in Houston makes it plain by stating that “Petrotger IV is an oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, Texas” and documenting that the “Trustees of Princeton University” have “overriding royalty interests” in the case. 

Divest Princeton has continued to urge the University to publicly divulge its investments, in order for the community to have a robust discussion about the industries from which Princeton profits. We have also called on Princeton to divest its $26 billion endowment of assets that do not align with a safe climate — and fossil fuel companies are largely responsible for our current climate crisis. 

Recently, the Resources Committee recommended conditional divestment from fossil fuels. Their decision is a recognition that Princeton funds the climate crisis through it’s $26 billion endowment and that the University must take responsibility for the climate impacts of its investments and financial partnerships — like Petrotiger. 

Based on other schools’ disclosures, we suspect that Princeton holds hundreds of millions — potentially over a billion — in fossil fuel-based assets. If Princeton's investments are anything like Harvard's almost two percent fossil fuel exposure, Princeton could have more than $500 million invested in fossil fuels. If its investments are more in line with Rutgers’ five percent exposure, Princeton's fossil fuel investments would amount to $1.3 billion. 

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This information on Petrotiger is the first concrete indication we have seen of Princeton’s holdings of fossil fuel companies. According to its 2018 Form 990, during the financial year ending June 2018 Princeton owned:

  • 99.8 percent of Petrotiger I, from which it earned an income of $11.35 million that year, 
  • 99 percent of Petrotiger III, from which it earned an income of $812,000 that year, and
  • 82.6 percent of Petrotiger IV, from which it earned an income of $1.69 million that year. 

While the full extent of Princeton’s fossil-fuel holdings is unclear, we are dismayed that, in the face of ever-worsening climate change, Princeton appears to hold a majority stake in an oil and gas company. If other schools’ disclosures are any indication, Petrotiger is likely just the tip of the iceberg. 

We contacted the University administration for clarification on these assets and what they have done to address potential climate damage from this company. They provided no additional comments. 

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Naomi Cohen-Shields ’20 majored in CEE with certificates in VPL and ENV. Tom Taylor GS is an MPA student at SPIA. They are both members of Divest Princeton, and can be reached at  naomic@princeton.edu and tlmt@princeton.edu, respectively. 

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