The heirs of 19th century oil baron John D. Rockefeller made headlines recently by announcing they would be divesting their charitable group from fossil fuel investments — the very fuels that made the Rockefellers a wealthy dynasty.
But what the Rockefellers forgot to mention in their announcement was that they might exactly divest from all fossil fuels. A Politico Pro article published behind a paywall Friday reported the Rockefellers were considering hanging on to their natural gas investments for a while longer.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), an $860 million fund run by descendants of the oil baron, is “still deciding how to approach investments in conventional oil and natural gas,” reports Politico Pro.
RBF’s President Stephen Heintz told Politico Pro the group may “draw down as quickly as we can on oil and look at gas as a third phase.”
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“Natural gas,” Heintz told Politico Pro, “as long as it’s extracted in ways that are environmentally careful, is an attractive bridge fuel.”
The bridge fuel argument for natural gas has been made by some environmentalists and even the Obama administration. The idea is that since natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal, it can be used to transition the U.S. to a low-carbon economy. An idea popular among the left until the advent of hydraulic fracturing, which caused gas prices to plummet.
Now environmentalists have largely turned against natural gas, criticizing gas companies for how the fuel is extracted out of the ground and for its methane emissions. RBF is keeping an eye over the debate of natural gas methane emissions from drilling operations, which green groups say could potentially wipe out the fuel’s climate benefits.
“What’s healthy at the moment is this debate, because it’s forcing people to really study closely what the actual environmental impacts of fracking are,” Heintz said.
Though it was founded by an oil family, RBF has been a major funder of environmental causes for years, even using their fossil fuel-generated money to fund environmental groups. Politico Pro reports RBF gave $3.7 million to environmental groups from 2009 to 2012. Between 2011 and 2013, RBF spent well over $18 million on “sustainable development.”
350.org is one of the environmental groups who has benefited greatly from RBF funding. Bill McKibben, the founder and head of 350.org, is zealously opposed to fossil fuels and has led the divestment movement, initially targeting colleges and universities to divest from coal, gas and oil.
McKibben and 350.org gained notoriety opposing the Keystone XL pipeline — the multi-billion projec that will bring oil sands from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast for refining. McKibben has also argued for companies and institutions to quickly divest of fossil fuels to fend of catastrophic global warming.
“The Rockefeller’s announcement… is a pretty signal moment,” Mckibben told Southern California Public Radio after RBF made its announcement to divest. “If anyone can say that the oil era is drawing to a close, it’s the heirs of John D. himself, the guy who started the oil era.”
“This is not just morally a bad idea to support the industries that are flooding the atmosphere with carbon, it’s also a financial bet that the fossil fuel era is going to keep going on for years and years, and it’s pretty clear that it isn’t,” McKibben added.
But McKibben’s comments have been called “ironic” by critics as 350.org has benefited greatly from RBF while it had investments in fossil fuels. A report by the Financial Post last year found that 350.org has gotten millions from RBF — all while RBF still had investments in fossil fuels.
McKibben has been less than forthcoming about his ties to the oil family’s fund. He was backed into a corner in an interview with a reporter with the news outlet Climate Challenge and was basically forced to admit 350.org took money from RBF.
Reporter: So you don’t get money from Pew or Rockefeller or any of those big foundations?
McKibben: No we did. Rockefellers Brothers fund gave us some money right when we were starting out that’s been useful too.
Reporter: But they no longer fund you?
McKibben: Uhh I don’t know. I don’t have that sort of… funders sitting in front of me.
Reporter: Really? That’s usually something that people know.
McKibben: Rockefellers is one of our… is a great ally in this fight.
RBF and 350.orgs actions have been heavily criticized by opponents, who argue the groups are simply playing political games.
“Both organizations are being purely symbolic in the worst sense of the term,” Alex Epstein, president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There is no such thing as divesting from fossil fuels, as fossil fuel energy is the basis of all of modern life, with ‘renewables’ serving as politically correct energy parasites.”
“But by smearing the modern-day Rockefellers through ‘divestment,’ his unworthy heirs, like McKibben, are undermining the freedom of billions to secure a better future” Epstein said.
RBF did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.
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