Reports have surfaced that the ANU is currently one of the top 20 shareholders in the coal seam gas company Metgasco, despite promises from 2011 to sell all of its shares in the company.

This comes following a campaign led by the ANU Environment Collective (EC) against the university’s investment in Metgasco. The campaign was so successful that it led Vice Chancellor Ian Young to state that the ANU would sells its shares in Metgasco.

At the time, Tom Stayner from the EC declared, “He took some convincing, but the Vice Chancellor is showing leadership on this urgent issue”.

However, the recent reports suggest that the ANU has only reduced its holding in Metgasco from over 4 million shares in 2011 to 2.5 million shares in 2012. The “urgency” of the issue was apparently secondary to mitigating the university’s losses on the share market.”

A spokeswoman from the ANU said the reason for the slow divestment is that there are few “potential buyers of the holding at a fair price”, a likely consequence of the opposition from affected communities and environmentalists advocating the switch from fossil fuels to renewables.

Opposition to coal seam gas has created some unlikely allies: The Greens and Bob Katter; the remaining Beatles and Yoko Ono; and environmentalists with Alan Jones.

James Samson from Lincoln Indicators has said, “The risks of investing in coal seam gas stocks are very real and very publicised.”

Metgasco shares have continued to fall, their value currently sits at 16.5 cents/share, whereas in 2007 Metgasco share value peaked at over $1.20/share. The EC has said this is because investors are realising that coal seam gas is an irresponsible investment.

“Ethically it’s irresponsible, because companies like Metgasco contribute to dangerous climate change and their fracking practices are controversial to say the least. Economically, it’s irresponsible, since by 2030 renewables will be our cheapest source of energy, and coal and gas will become more expensive due to carbon pricing and rising fuel costs.”

Recent evidence has revealed that vast amounts of methane (which is 25 times more potent than CO2 over 100 years) appears to be leaking undetected from Tara gas field in Queensland, Australia’s largest coal seam gas field.

The EC has also pointed out that ANU students have a particular interest against their fees being used to fund coal seam gas. Student options are for shares to continue to decrease in value, or, if coal seam gas becomes as widely-used in Australia as it has in the US, that “Fossil fuels remain profitable, but destroy any hope of a stable society in which we (the students) might make use of our degrees.”
The EC has therefore campaigned for the university to divest “immediately, lowering their value and, eventually, eradicating their apocalyptic business model.” The ANU has also received a message from Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, residents directly affected by the investment, urging the university to immediately sell its shares in the Metgasco.

In recent years, the ANU has reduced water, established a Carbon Fund for projects to reduce carbon emissions and developed an energy strategy to investigate the options of onsite cogeneration and tri-generation. It appears inconsistent with the ANU’s concern for its personal carbon footprint for the university to maintain shares in an environmentally destructive company.

Rather, it has been argued that the ANU should pioneer responsible investment, to secure a safe, sustainable world for its students. The EC is running a freedom of information campaign to have the university disclose its full investment portfolio, and see divestment of all fossil fuel interests.

Other suggestions have also been put forward for the ANU to emulate initiatives of overseas universities. Yale University, for example, has created the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund, a student advisory board that began with $50 000 in 2008, which is soon expected to meet its target of $500 000 in returns. The ANU currently does not have a specific ethical investment policy.

A spokeswoman from ANU has said that it will remove its shareholding in Metgasco “in a measured manner as purchasers become available”. Such a response is unlikely to be satisfactory to students who have been seeking action against an urgent problem.