There’s a trend moving through Colorado. As the oil and gas battleground state immerses itself in the debate over hydraulic fracturing, no corner of the energy industry is off limits for scrutiny. This issue is particularly concerning because the oil and gas industry’s donation to educational institutions are now coming under fire.
Late last month, a student-led protest at the University of Denver harshly criticized the school for accepting investments from oil, natural gas and coal companies. Never mind the fact that 75 percent of DU’s endowment goes to scholarships. Seven meetings were held over the course of six months, and though the University did decide to maintain its investment in oil and gas companies, five million dollars were diverted from the endowment to appease the portion of the student body upset at the investments.
In early February, Broomfield’s Prospect Ridge Academy board was pressed into returning a sizable donation from Extraction Oil and Gas, a local energy company. The donation came at a time when Prospect Ridge desperately needed it. As the board explained in a statement, “we are significantly behind in donations and registration numbers for both.”
Unfortunately, the source of this much needed donation caused Broomfield residents to react loudly, demanding that the school return the funds. Michelle Smith, a representative of Vital Colorado, said, “Sadly, this is politics at its worst. There’s clearly room for common ground among the community, yet these recall threats only incite the divisiveness that now seems to rule our public discourse.”
The conversation over fracking has reached a particularly fevered pitch in Colorado, opponents of fracking seem to have lost their ability to differentiate between their cause and general do-goodery.
Undoubtedly with these donations, energy companies are searching for a slight bump in community perception. But is that such a terrible thing? The tactic of donating funds to local charities to win friends among the community has been used by corporations since the beginning of time. It’s generally considered a fairly transparent, but wholly beneficial move. After all, energy companies are still donating their funds to help build a better foundation for society as a whole.
The debate may still be raging between opposing sides of the fracking debate, but it’s important to remember that the debate over hydraulic fracturing has nothing to do with educational donations; after all, it’s not as though these companies are demanding the curriculum change. They’re not demanding that the school speak out in favor of fracking.
Energy companies who donate to schools are simply investing their money in the future. Beyond hoping to gain some brownie points for giving back to their community, oil and gas companies aren’t hoping that these donations will influence the fracking debate, they’re simply trying to insure that the next generation of adults is intellectually capable of keeping the debate alive.