CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

To Frack or Not To Frack

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 22, 2013 9:00:02 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

A recent New York Daily News cartoon features the dilemma faced by New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

 To Frack or Not to Frack


Governor Cuomo had been barreling towards a late February deadline to decide whether or not to allow fracking in large parts of New York.   His decision was highly anticipated and was expected to influence the decision process in other states (and communities in other parts of the world). Fracking is a method of mining in which cracks are created in shale in order to obtain gas, oil, or other substances that are inside it.

It seems that the Governor has now decided to postpone his decision, yet again.  Once more unusual pressures may have been ads run in Iowa by anti-fracking activists.  The authors of this campaign suspect that the Governor is considering running for President in 2016.  Fracking is controversial in farm-oriented Iowa.  Their ads created the threat that a pro-fracking decision by Cuomo would lead to an initially unfavorable impression of him, among Iowan Democrats.

CSRHub tracks 57 companies in our system, who have been identified as having an involvement in fracking.  It will be interesting to see how this ongoing controversy affects these companies and how their sustainability performance is perceived.

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHub. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 7,000 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in anti-fracking, Bahar Gidwani, fracking, pro-fracking, Uncategorized, sustainability, mining, oil, Andrew Cuomo, CSRHub, gas

Environmental Information Agency CO2 Emissions Data Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 12, 2012 11:34:41 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last month, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported that for the first three months of 2012, CO2 emissions fell to about 1992 levels, primarily because coal companies switched to natural gas.

Another boost for natural gas? Certainly EIA’s press release spins it that way. It seems that if we just switch coal to natural gas, we’ll reduce the environmental problem without changing behavior at all.

The article claimed the extraordinary Q1 coal emissions drop of 18% over last year’s Q1 was due primarily to natural gas prices dropping to about half the price of coal. Utilities could justify switching from coal to natural gas much faster than anyone had thought possible.

[csrhubwidget company="Atlas-Energy-Inc" size="650x100"]

Click “Oil and Gas Extraction” in the CSRHub Sustainability Ratings widget above to see all the companies and their ratings in this industry.

But the numbers just didn’t feel right. And when I looked into what’s behind the EIA data, I got a muddled story.

First, was Q1 an average quarter? No, there were dramatic anomalies. Temperatures for the first quarter were not just higher than expected, they were 6% higher than the average of the past hundred years. The economy was weaker than the year before, with GDP growth rates about half that of first quarter 2011. And though not included in the EIA numbers, renewable energy sources grew 14% in 2011, offsetting another piece of fossil fuel demand.

Coal generation has declined dramatically, with production down from 50% of all energy sources in 2007 to 34% this March. And gas generation has taken up the slack, climbing to be almost one-third of electricity generation due to large shale deposits now coming on line.

But the change in generation is not born out in emissions figures. The EIA press release claims, “The decline in coal-related emissions is due mainly to utilities using less coal for electricity generation as they burned more low-priced natural gas.” But a lot of that natural gas went into filling storage facilities to near capacity, not to power plants.

Even if as the EPA claims natural gas emits only half of what comes out of coal plants, you’d still expect some bounce in natural gas emissions. But natural gas emissions actually fell by 3% in the first quarter.

We know that demand dropped for the reasons cited above. Coal plants stopped production because of regulatory threats combined with competition from natural gas’ unnaturally low prices. Many other coal plants switched to natural gas.

All that slowed in Q2, when natural gas prices from generators rose 70%. Energy companies believe this price rise is here to stay. As reported by CNN’s Money, natural gas production has all but stopped:

Last April about half of the nation's 1,800 or so drilling rigs were looking for oil while half were looking for gas, according to IA. By this May over twice as many were looking for oil, and EIA has reported recent natural gas production numbers slightly below levels seen at the end of last year.

Which just goes to show, you can’t make projections from a single quarter.

And natural gas might not be the environmentally clean fuel we think. Even if we set aside the issue of fracking, there’s still the issue of methane. Natural gas is almost entirely methane. Because of the enormous pressure that’s involved at every stage of getting natural gas to a power plant, leaks are greater than for other forms of fuel. But the EIA did not report methane at all, so we did not get a realistic comparison of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by source.

And methane produces even more pernicious GHG than CO2. According to a study released last year from Cornell University’s Robert Horwath, “Compared to coal, the (greenhouse gas) footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon.”

Of course, Horwath’s predictions have been challenged. Bill Chameides, Dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, lays out the arguments. But regardless of the seepage rate, methane will be released into the environment.

And the damage methane will do might not be reversible. To quote Chameides, “If fragile ecosystems like coral reefs are decimated by a decade or two of extra methane-induced warming, can we be sure that they will recover once the methane is flushed from the atmosphere? Probably not.”

Whichever way you look at the EIA data, it’s not the whole story. The 18% drop in coal emissions looks like a home run until you dig deeper. We may be closing coal plants, but the reduction in CO2 may be due more to what the EIA called secondary factors like weather and renewables than a switch to natural gas. In any case, methane emissions should be measured and reported side by side with CO2.

But am I splitting hairs here? Carbon emissions are dropping, and not just across power plants. Transportation and other petroleum uses dropped as well. All in all, Q1 2012 emissions fell an astonishing 8%. That’s more than can be accounted for by warmer weather. And that’s a trend in CO2 worth reporting.

Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Bill Chameides, EIA, fracking, Robert Horwath, natural gas, Uncategorized, Carol Pierson Holding, CO2, coal emissions, Cornell, Duke, Environmental Information Agency

Who Pays the Costs for Fracking?

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 8, 2012 9:45:53 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

By Karen Dam

Debates on natural gas persist, whether it will become a major (clean) energy Frackingsource, and whether the growing means to attain it-hydraulic fracturing (or fracking)-is safe and sustainable. Pricing, infrastructure, air quality, and environmental contamination are vital issues being argued by both sides, which New England (the northeastern corner of the United States) must resolve as it looks for new energy sources to meet its future demand. Spectra Energy Corp. hopes it will be natural gas (see Energy Wire’s recent article that discusses New England’s options and Spectra Energy Corp. as a key player).

Spectra Energy owns and operates transportation and storage infrastructure, and is engaged in other natural gas-related activities such as processing. The company is pushing to secure long term contracts and expand its natural gas pipelines to reach new markets.

Given the current pricing of natural gas compared to other fossil fuels and renewable energy, customers may increasingly demand natural gas. The cost however for the new pipeline infrastructure will likely be added to customers’ energy bills, suspects Andrew Pusateri, senior utilities analyst at Edward Jones.

What is next to been seen is whether Spectra Energy Corp., and other key players in the natural gas industry, will shoulder the burden of environmental costs (including toxic contamination and air pollution), or force it onto the public as well. Mike Benard, founder of Spectra Energy Watch and one of CSRHub’s data sources, asserts that Spectra Energy has not been transparent nor socially responsible according to its track records (see Spectra Energy’s 2009 10-K form, which acknowledges that toxic PCBs remain its it pipeline system).

[csrhubwidget company="Spectra-Energy-Partners-LP" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

As decisions about the energy future unfold, individuals can track the sustainability ratings of energy companies like Spectra Energy Corp. Plus, the list of 49 additional companies involved in fracking can also be viewed at CSRHub’s website. The sustainability ratings of these companies change depending on whether the individual views fracking as a positive or negative means of extracting unconventional natural gas, and perhaps whether he/she thinks natural gas overall is a sustainable energy source.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Buckingham MLC (Flickr CC).

Karen Dam is a Data Analyst for CSRHub. Karen completed her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph, and a Master of Environmental Science at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She has enthusiastically filled research roles in the public sector. Karen has experiences in project management and research, including data collection and data management, analysis and synthesis. Karen actively volunteers with NGOs, including conservation authorities, to contribute to ecosystem protection, advocate environmental sustainability and of science literacy.


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Energy Wire, fracking, fracturing, natural gas, Spectra Energy Watch, Uncategorized, Mike Benard, Spectra Energy

A New Special Issue: Involvement In Iran

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 30, 2012 12:21:19 PM / by CSRHub Blogging

CSRHub has launched a new special issue: Involvement in Iran. We have tagged 42 of the approximately 5,000 companies we rate on sustainability.

Iran’s actions have been a major foreign policy problem for the U.S. for a long time. The CSRHub Special IssueU.S. has recently pressed its allies to tighten the sanctions that have been placed on Iran. These sanctions are intended to force Iran to drop any programs that might lead to it developing a nuclear weapon. This Federal effort has now been joined by state initiatives: both Florida and California have passed laws that seek to prevent their citizens from investing in companies who are involved in Iran.

Registered users and subscribers to our site can now incorporate their view on Iran involvement into their personal profile. When they include this factor, the overall ratings for 42 companies we’ve tagged with this special issue will either move up—if our user believes involvement in Iran is positive—or down if our user believes it is negative.

We decided to treat involvement in Iran as a special issue for three reasons:

1. A number of groups and experts advocate “engagement” instead of sanctions, as the way to deal with difficult regimes. We wanted to give them room to express this view—as we do with the companies who are involved in Burma and the Sudan.

2. The U.S. perspective on Iran is not shared by a number of other countries. Since more than half of our users are outside the U.S., we did not believe we should mandate a “U.S.-centric” view on Iran.

3. The available data on involvement is not broad and deep enough to be definitive. We found four publicly-available sources on Iran Involvement. Together, they mentioned 304 of the companies we rate. However, only 42 of those companies were mentioned in at least two sources. By only tagging these companies, we were able to offer a “middle path” for those interested in this issue. Users who have a stronger view can find all 304 companies if they wish, using our search methods. And, everyone on both sides of the issue can inspect each of our sources.

We will be interested to see how our users react. We can track the aggregate attitudes of our users towards each special issue—and towards each of the four categories that are part of our profile system. We have already shared some of this data in a previous post.

In April, we launched the special issue of companies involved in fracking. We have also added three new sources to our list of companies involved in fracking, to give us a total of nine sources. Our sources identify 91 of the companies we rate and in 51 cases, we have found enough overlap to feel confident that a company is involved in fracking.

Please feel free to suggest new special issues and new sources for our existing issues via info@csrhub.com.

By the way, CSRHub CEO Bahar Gidwani is hosting an Agrion seminar tomorrow (Tuesday, July 24, at 11:00 EDT) on Company Involvement in Sustainable Cities. Please join us if you are interested. And, we are sponsoring and look forward to participating in the Commit!Forum in New York on October 2nd and 3rd. We got a special discount on the registration fee for our users. Contact us at info@csrhub.com for more information.

Photo courtesy of indigoprime (Flickr CC).

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. We offer subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 150-plus data sources. Our data comes from six socially responsible investing firms, well-known indexes, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, NGOs, crowd sources and government agencies. By aggregating and normalizing the information from these sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links each rating point back to its source.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bahar Gidwani, Commit!Forum, foreign policy, fracking, Iran nuclear program, Uncategorized, Iran involvement, Agrion, CSRHub

Is Fracking Sustainable?

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 12, 2012 6:00:00 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

Is fracking benign or bad?  An opportunity to cut the cost of energy and reduce the environmental damage of oil and coal production or a threat to water resources and public health?  The controversy around this issue seems to grow daily.

CSRHub has now added fracking (some call it fracing) to our growing list of special issues.  Those who have registered or subscribed on our site can choose to either approve of fracking (green button), disapprove of it (red button), or block out ratings entirely for companies who participate in the area (white button).  The list of companies involved in this area was surprisingly long—we found that 51 companies out of the approximately 5,000 we cover participate in the area.  We have partial information on another 40 or so smaller companies.  We hope to be able to publish partial ratings on these companies, soon.

We were able to create our list thanks to the hard work of five organizations and one well known expert in the area, blogger Mike Benard.  With help from Mike, we reviewed data from FracFocus (44 companies matched our list), FracTracker (31 matches), Marcellus Shale Coalition (42 matches), Marcellus Money (26 matches), and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (23 matches).  We combined their input with data Mike had gathered on 56 companies to create our final list.

As you can see from the sources we are citing, a lot of attention has been focused on the Marcellus Shale formation that stretches across a large part of the US central and eastern region.  We hope to add other sources soon that identify companies that are involved in fracking in other parts of the US and in the rest of the world.  We suspect that there are at least another 100 companies among those we rate who participate in this area—either directly via drilling and exploration or through supplying materials to the industry or by helping to process and transport the gas and oil fluids they extract.  We encourage our community to suggest additional sources.

The overall ratings for the companies covered by this special issue range from a low of 39 (using our average user profile) to a high of 64.  The average for each source’s list is right around the average score for our entire database—between 48 and 50.  This suggests that the companies involved in this area are not entirely positive or inherently anti-social—they may instead be ordinary companies who did not realize involvement in fracking could be controversial.

We now carry 15 special issues in our system.   For some issues (such as Labor Union Support and Gay and Lesbian Sensitivity), our users have supported companies with these practices.  On others (such as Animal Testing and  Burma Involved), the majority of our users oppose company involvement in the issue.  It will be interesting to see how our users “vote” on fracking—and how our users’ views tie to and correlate with their views on other areas of sustainability.

For more on the controversy surrounding fracking, read this recent post on the CSRHub blog>> 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bahar Gidwani, corporate social responsibility, CSRHub special issue, energy, environmental pollution, fracking, Uncategorized, sustainability

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