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Jackson Hole Star-Tribune: Shell donates $2 million

Jackson Hole Star-Tribune: Shell donates $2 million

By JEFF GEARINO

Southwest Wyoming bureau Wednesday, June 08, 2005

PINEDALE — Big Piney High School senior Ali Guio offered the first idea for how some of Shell Exploration and Production Co.’s $1 million gift should be spent.

Like many teenagers, the 17-year-old Guio lamented that there aren’t enough positive activities for area youth in small western Wyoming communities such as Pinedale and Big Piney. So some teens are turning to drugs and alcohol for entertainment, she said.

“There’s been a disturbing increase in our (student) population’s use of drugs and alcohol… Drug use is the No. 1 concern,” Guio said during a luncheon unveiling the Upper Green River Sustainable Communities Endowment Fund here Tuesday. The permanent endowment was established by Shell and the Wyoming Community Foundation and initially funded with a $1 million contribution from the energy company.

Proceeds from the fund are intended to help local communities deal with energy development impacts.

“Maybe this can have a positive impact and offer an alternative to drugs,” Guio said. “And maybe it can provide some initiatives for youth attractions … and lead to some positive recreation opportunities, positive places and positive things for (students) to do.”

Shell officials, foundation members and community residents joined Gov. Dave Freudenthal and a crowd of guests to announce the formation of the unique endowment fund. Shell, an operator in the natural gas-rich Pinedale Anticline fields, created the endowment as a way to help Upper Green River Valley communities — specifically Pinedale, Big Piney, Marbleton, Daniel and Boulder — better respond to energy-related development impacts. The company also is giving $1 million for an endowment to benefit sage grouse (see related story).

Freudenthal called Shell’s offer a groundbreaking approach toward community health and sustainability. He said he hoped that other companies and individuals would join the effort with future contributions.

“This is a great day for the state of Wyoming… For (Shell’s) corporate generosity and remarkable commitment, we thank you for what you’re doing for the state,” Freudenthal said.

“This needs to be matched with the assistance of the state … The state needs to step up in a much more significant form and distribute some of these (growing oil and gas revenues) back to the communities,” he said.

The governor noted that Shell is not headquartered in Wyoming and voluntarily created the endowment fund.

Foundation officials estimated a $1 million initial investment over 20 years — with an 8 percent annual return and a 5 percent payout — would yield about $1.3 million that would be available to the communities. It would also leave about $1.8 million in the fund itself.

A $2 million investment over 20 years would yield $2.6 million for communities, with $3.6 million still in the fund after that time period, according to estimates.

Lasting legacy

Wyoming Community Foundation Board Chairman Tad Daly said the endowment will enable communities to respond to socioeconomic impacts as they see fit.

Interest from the endowment could be used to fund such projects as early childhood development and other youth initiatives, art and cultural history, drug prevention efforts, and planning and entrepreneurship training.

Shell and 10 other companies including Ultra Petroleum and Anschutz Oil and Gas have been increasing operations in the Pinedale Anticline since the Bureau of Land Management approved up to 700 additional producing wells for the area.

The Anticline stretches from just northwest of Pinedale to about 30 miles southeast and is roughly five miles wide. Another 3,100 infill wells are proposed for the nearby Jonah fields to the south of the Anticline.

As more and more workers and their families move into the area, community officials say town and city infrastructures are being taxed by increasing needs, and housing is at a premium.

Daly said the foundation is a non-government, publicly supported community foundation that is governed by a local board of citizens. The organization makes grants from funds contributed or bequeathed by individuals, families, corporations, nonprofit organizations and other sources.

Daly said the fund would be administered by the foundation.

“We’ve not had the pleasure of going down this road before (whereby a company) sets up a fund specifically to help local communities,” he said. “It’s out of Shell’s hands now… It will be up to the community to decide how to use these funds.”

Pinedale Mayor Rose Skinner called the endowment fund a “lasting legacy” from the energy industry that should produce and provide benefits for Sublette County residents for generations.

Southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at (307) 875-5359 or at [email protected]

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