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The Sordid Sixteen of Fossil Fuels

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While our ultimate goal is for Swarthmore to divest completely from the fossil fuel industry, we have developed a list of 16 companies, or the “Sordid Sixteen,” that are the worst of the worst, and must be divested immediately. They are:

Alpha Natural Resources

ANR is the third-largest coal producer in the U.S., producing approximately 126 million tons of coal from approximately 150 active mines in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. ANR is currently the single largest company using mountaintop removal,[1] a particularly invasive method of coal mining that directly correlates with high rates of cancer, birth defects, and poverty.[2] In 2010, ANR received 1,453 notices of violations — over 4 a day — from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for breaches of health or safety standards that could cause a serious injury.[3]ANR is also responsible for the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which resulted in the deaths of 29 miners.

Arch Coal

Arch is the second-largest coal producer in the U.S.[4] Arch is currently in a court battle to build the Spruce No. 1 mine, which would be the largest mountaintop removal mine in the U.S.[5] In 2009, the company spent over $2.32 million on lobbying efforts, and has also developed the Arch Coal Political Action Committee, which is a substantial donor to West Virginia politicians.[6]

Cabot Oil & Gas

Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation is a natural gas exploration and production company based in Houston. The company has been cited for numerous spills of toxic hydrofracking fluids in northeastern PA.Cabot had 412 violations on 213 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale region from 2008-2011, which is roughly 2 violations per well.[7] EPA tests of well water in the area show dangerous levels of arsenic, glycols, barium, and other carcinogens.[8] These wells are also the site of the famous images of families lighting their tap water on fire.

Chesapeake Energy

Chesapeake is, in its own words, “the second-largest producer of natural gas, a Top 15 producer of oil and natural gas liquids and the most active driller of new wells in the U.S.”[9] While natural gas is often touted as a cleaner alternative to coal, recent studies show that high levels of methane released through hydrofracking result in greater overall greenhouse gas emissions for natural gas than for coal.[10] In 2011, Chesapeake was implicated in 141 health and safety violations in Pennsylvania alone. Chesapeake was fined $565,000 in February 2012 for previous violations that resulted in contamination of local waterways. In May of 2011, Chesapeake was fined $1.09 million.[11]


Chevron is a U.S. based multinational energy company that is active in over 180 countries. It is considered one of the 6 “supermajor” oil companies in the world and is one of the largest 5 corporations in the U.S.[12] It has a long history of ethical violations, excerpted here. In 1950, it was one of three companies responsible for buying streetcar systems nationwide and replacing them with bus systems to increase petroleum sales. The three companies were charged and convicted for conspiracy.[13] Chevron is responsible for sickening local residents and damaging forests and rivers in Ecuador by dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic formation water into the rainforest with no remediation.[14] Its Richmond, CA refinery has bypassed wastewater treatment and released 11 million pounds of toxic materials into the environment.[15] Chevron may have paid for Nigerian military forces to commit human rights abuses, such as shooting protesters from helicopters. [16] Chevron is also responsible for a large oil spill off the coast of Brazil in 2011.[17]


ConocoPhillips is a U.S. multinational energy company and one of the six “supermajor” oil companies. It is operating in over 40 countries worldwide. Within the U.S., it is the second-largest refiner of oil, and the 13th worst corporate air polluter.[18] ConocoPhillips’ Trainer Oil Refinery is the second-largest industrial polluter in Delaware County. A 2006 Swarthmore study found that this facility released over 138 tons of nitrate compounds into the Delaware River each year, putting area infants at greater risk of “Blue Baby Disease.” The study also found that ConocoPhillips emits substantial amounts of napthalane, an airborne toxicant, from this same facility.[19]

Dominion Resources

Dominion Resources is a power and energy company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. In 2010, pollution from Dominion’s coal-fired power plants contribute to 332 deaths, 519 heart attacks, 5,528 asthma attacks, and 205 cases of chronic bronchitis per year.[20] Dominion also recently received approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to export natural gas from its Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas terminal.[21] This move to export natural gas belies industry and governmental assurances that increased natural gas exploration will result in U.S. energy independence.

Duke Energy

Duke is a utility based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke will soon be the largest utility in the U.S., pending approval of a merger with Progress Energy.[22] In 2010, pollution from Duke and Progress’ coal plants caused 1,248 deaths, 1,887 heart attacks, 20,511 asthma attacks, and 758 cases of chronic bronchitis per year.[23] The company has also been implicated in numerous ethics scandals and is a major contributor to political candidates.[24]


Exelon is a utility based in Chicago but with a significant presence in greater Philadelphia. Exelon owns the Eddystone Station coal-fired power plant in Crum Lynne, PA. A 2006 Swarthmore study found that Eddystone Station releases nearly one ton of arsenic, one ton of lead, and 200 tons of sulfuric and hydrochloric acids into the atmosphere each year.[25] Eddystone Station also releases 162 pounds of mercury per year, more than all but two other power plants in the U.S. All of these contaminants have significant health effects for residents of Delaware County, with the impacts concentrated on the low-income and majority black residents of Chester.[26]


ExxonMobil, formerly Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, is a U.S. multinational oil and gas corporation, and is the second-largest company in the world. Exxon has refineries in 21 countries, producing 6.3 million barrels a day, making in the largest refiner in the world. It is the largest “supermajor” oil company. The Exxon Valdez Spill in 1989, the second-largest spill in U.S. history, spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil. The company continues to suffer environmental mishaps; in July 2011, oil spilled from an ExxonMobil pipeline running from Silver Tip to Billings, Montana. The spill leaked 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River in the 30 minutes before it was shut down.[27] Exxon allegedly assisted human rights violations in Indonesia by giving aid to the Indonesian military to torture and murder opposition.[28] 90% of scientists who deny climate change are connected with Exxon, and are often the direct recipients of Exxon funding.[29]


Halliburton is one of the world’s largest natural gas companies, with operations in over 70 countries. Halliburton invented hydraulic fracturing, and is indirectly responsible for its recent expansion; the “Halliburton Loophole,” passed in 2005 at the behest of former CEO Dick Cheney, removed the EPA’s authority to regulate the practice.[30] In addition to numerous environmental disasters caused by fracking, Halliburton also shares culpability for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling found that Halliburton used an unstable sealant on the well, helping cause the worst oil spill in U.S. history.[31]


Hess is a New York-based oil company that explores, produces, transports, and refines crude oil and natural gas in the U.S. and around the world. Hess is responsible for spilling 163,000 gallons of kerosene into the Hudson River in 1990 and for spilling 2.5 million gallons of crude oil into the Gowanus Canal in 1976, the largest spill on record at that time.[32] Hess currently has to pay $1.1 million in fines for having over 100 violations at various gas stations and their major storage facility in Brooklyn.[33] In 2008, Hess also had to pay $422 million in a settlement over water contamination; public water providers from 17 states filed a suit over drinking water contamination.[34]

Occidental Petroleum

Occidental is an oil and gas exploration and production corporation operating in the United States, the Middle East, North Africa, and South America. It is the fourth largest U.S. oil and gas company. Hooker Chemicals, later purchased by Occidental, was responsible for disposing chemical waste in the Love Canal beginning in the 1940s. The waste site was later the site of a school and residential community that experienced high instances of health problems; Occidental was eventually forced to pay $129 million in restitution for the damage done.[35] In 2007, indigenous Peruvians filed a lawsuit against Occidental demanding that they clean up and pay reparations for environmental damage caused over the course of three decades of dumping chemical byproducts (totaling 9 billion barrels) into local watersheds that were sources of drinking water and fish.[36]

Patriot Coal

Patriot is a St. Louis-based coal extraction company. It is the second-largest practitioner of mountaintop removal in the U.S.[37] In 2010, Patriot was found in contempt of court for selenium pollution at two mountaintop removal sites in West Virginia.[38] From 2000 to 2010, Patriot Coal had nearly 3,000 “significant” violations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, one death on the job, and close to $10 million in fines.[39] Patriot Coal is a member of and contributor to the National Mining Association, which since 1997 has spent over $40 million lobbying against issues such as clean air, clean energy and green jobs, and for carbon capture and storage.[40]

Peabody Energy

Peabody is the largest private-sector coal company in the world. In the U.S., it owns 20 coal mining operations in Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, and Indiana. In 2010, it averaged nine daily safety violations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.[41] In addition to its U.S. operations, Peabody is rapidly expanding into China, where it has plans to develop several enormous surface mines.[42] Peabody spent almost $6.6 million on lobbying in 2010[43] and in the first 5 months of 2011 the company spent $3.7 million, including on a bill aimed at preventing the EPA from taking action relating to greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.[44] In 2007, the Kentucky state legislature passed a law that will provide approximately $300 million in incentives to Peabody to build a coal gasification plant in that state.[45]

Range Resources

Range is a natural gas company based in Fort Worth, Texas, but with major operations in southwestern Pennsylvania. Range’s operations in PA have led to skyrocketing levels of water-borne and aerial carcinogens.[46] As of May 2010, Range had made over $200,000 in fines to the state for regulatory violations.[47] Range has also engaged in campaigns of intimidation against communities who threaten to pass unfavorable zoning regulations. A company spokesman stated on record that the company employs Army-trained counterinsurgency experts to deal with angry local populations.[48]

Click here to see how Swarthmore’s values of social justice contradict its investments.

[1] Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club, “Policy and Practice: 2011 Report Card on Banks and Mountaintop Removal: Executive Summary,” April 2011, reportcard_2011_exec_summary.pdf.


[3] Alpha Natural Resources, “2010 Form 10-K,” p 254-257,


[4] Arch Coal, “Start Here Arch Coal, Inc. 2010 Annual Report,” p 40-42, 12 December 2010, http://


[6] “Annual Lobbying by Arch Coal,”, accessed 1 August 2011, http://www.opensecrets. org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000019258&year=2011.

[7] Staaf, Erika. “Risky Business: An analysis of Marcellus Shale gas drilling violations in Pennsylvania, 2008-2011.” %20Violations%20Report_0.pdf





[12] Fortune 500, 2010 “America’s Largest Corporations”

[13] Chomsky, Noam (1999). Year 501: the Conquest Continues. South End Press.

[14] “60 Minutes: Amazon Crude”. 3 May 2009.


[15]  StandingUpToBigOil.” Making Contact: produced by National Radio Project. 14 December  2010.

[16] Egelko, Bob (August 15, 2007). “Chevron can be sued for attacks on Nigerians, U.S. judge rules”.The San Francisco Chronicle.

[17] “Chevron Takes Responsibility for Brazil Oil Spill, May Face $51M Fine.” Fox News. 11 Nov 2011.

[18]   “Toxic 100 Air Polluters Detailed Company Reports.” Political Economy Research Institute.

[19] Mapping Environmental Justice in Delaware County, PA. Swarthmore College Environmental Studies Capstone, 2006.

[20] C. Sneider and J. Banks, “The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source,” Clean Air Task Force, September 2010,



[22] Duke Energy, “Duke Energy and Progress Energy to Merge,” accessed 1 August 2011, http://www.

[23] C. Sneider and J. Banks, “The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source,” Clean Air Task Force, September 2010, publications/files/The_Toll_from_Coal.pdf.

[24] “Duke Energy Contributions to Federal Candidates,”, accessed 10 November 2011,

[25] Mapping Environmental Justice in Delaware County, PA. Swarthmore College Environmental Studies Capstone, 2006.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Spill sends 40km oil slick into river.” Herald Sun. 3 July 2011.

[28] Cary O’Reilly. “Exxon Mobil Must Face Lawsuit by Indonesian Villagers”. Bloomberg. 27 August 2008.

[29]   Mihai Andrei. “9 out of 10 top climate change deniers linked with Exxon Mobil.”

[30] “The Halliburton Loophole.” Editorial. New York Times, 2 Nov 2009. 11/03/opinion/03tue3.html?_r=1


[32] Burns, John F.  “Oil-Tank Fire on Brooklyn Waterfront Brought Under Control.”The New York Times 7 Jan. 1976: 36.

[33]  NYSDEC – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (2008-03-04).Hessfined $1.1mforHudsonRiverestuarypollution. Environmental-Expert.

[34] DallaslawfirmBaron & Buddwins $422 millionwatercontaminationlawsuit. Pegasus News. 11 May 2008.

[35]  “Occidental to pay $129 Million in Love Canal Settlement”. U.S. Department of Justice. 21 December 1995.

[36] “Indigenous Achuar Face Off Against Occidental Petroleum in Amazon Pollution Case.” EarthRights International. 8 Mar 2010.

[37] Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club, “Policy and Practice: 2011 Report Card on Banks and

Mountaintop Removal,” April 2011,

[38] J. Tomich, “Patriot Coal found in contempt for selenium discharges,”, 1 September 2010,

[39] J. Fenton and G. Russonello, “Coal mine deaths, fines and significant violations for the 10 largest coal mine controllers, 2000-2009” Investigative Reporting Workshop, 22 November 2010, http:// Patriot Coal Corporation, “Mine Safety Disclosure, Addendum to 2010 Patriot 10K report,” accessed July 2011, 000119312511047464/dex992.htm.

[40] “Mining Lobbying,” Influence Explorer, July 2011,

[41] Peabody Energy, “2011 Form 10-K,” p 63,

[42] Peabody Energy, “Peabody Energy and Yankuang Group Co. Ltd. to Pursue Development of Wucaiwan Energy Center in Xinjiang, China,” 20 January 2011, http://phx.

[43] “Coal Mining: Top Contributors, 2009-2010,”, accessed July 2011,


[44] “Peabody Energy: Bills lobbied,”, accessed August 2011,


[45] Alford, Roger; Malcolm Knox (2007-08-30). “Ky. Governor Signs Coal Tech Bill”. Forbes.

[46] Griswold, Eliza (17 November 2011). “The Fracturing of Pennsylvania”The New York Times Magazine

[47] “Pennsylvania collects $1M in fines since spike in Marcellus Shale drilling,”, Anya Litvak, Pittsburgh Business Times, May 31, 2010.

[48] Javers, Eamon (8 Nov 2011). “Oil Executive: Military-Style ‘Psy Ops’ Experience Applied”.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah permalink
    December 5, 2012 10:02 am

    saw you in the NYT. Great idea to push against coal.
    Was wondering why BP didn’t make your list? Duke Energy, for example, is one of the companies with a transition, new energy plan – their mission is solely to deliver electricity, and leaving fossil fuels (when economic) probably won’t bother their business model.

    Liquid petro fuels and transportation would be the next priority after coal – we’re going to need natural gas for transition, and compared with coal, it will improve (industrialized) humanity’s carbon footprint. Also, gas technologies can be converted easily to use biogases.

  2. December 5, 2012 1:36 pm

    Hi Sara, many energy conglomerates have so-called “clean” or “green” energy plans that they promote and advertise heavily. The problem is that these have always just been public relations campaigns in reality. They even sometimes spend millions of dollars on solar or wind projects that last several years only to quietly end them once their public image has been cleaned and greened enough. The problem is not what an energy conglomerate says; it is what they do. And the sad reality today is that, to be and energy conglomerate today means deriving billions of dollars of profit per year by extracting, processing, transporting and and burning fossil fuels. Many of the companies on this list are also heavily dependent on nuclear and hydrothermal power generation. But even those technologies are dwarfed by the massive scale upon which we humans are burning fossil fuels and stigmatizing the financing of the companies that profit from that activity is what this campaign is all about.

  3. tedb permalink
    December 6, 2012 6:10 pm

    Good on you guys. I don’t know if this is the best tactic, but the health of the planet is too important not to try every possible method to change our current ruinous course. Push all the buttons you can.

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