Remembering Jane Dale Owen, Environmentalist, Exxon Shareholder, Climate Progress Supporter

A couple of days ago I received the sad news that my friend Jane Dale Owen had died. Jane was one of the most passionate and caring environmentalists I knew — with a unique twist.

She was a granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, which consolidated with Standard Oil to become Esso (S.O.) which became Exxon, which became ExxonMobil. She used her oil wealth to support a variety of efforts to reduce pollution from oil production. And she used her shares to support shareholder resolutions aimed at helping protect the environment and public health.

When I was working with the Center for American Progress Action Fund to start Climate Progress (8 years ago this summer!), Jane generously provided some of the seed money. So I guess you could say Exxon helped launch this website!

I was introduced to Jane over a decade ago by our mutual friend Art Rosenfeld, the former California Energy Commissioner and “father of energy efficiency” in this country. Anyone who was lucky enough to know Jane knew how remarkably warm and caring she was.

Climate Progress readers knew her through the occasional guest post:

Jane’s great love was people — their health and well-being — especially in her home of Houston. She moved back some 15 years ago to to spend more time with her aging parents.

“Believing that she was suffering from the flu for a two-year period, Owen sought out doctors, toxicologists, and chemists,” as a 2013 HuffPost profile explained. She learned from them about particulates (largely from oil refineries) and how they cause symptoms that “mimic the signs of allergies such as hay fever.” Jane said:

When I moved here, I didn’t realize how polluted it was. Houston made me become an environmentalist because of the air pollution. Sixty percent of the nation’s refineries are located near the city at the Houston Ship Channel.

She felt a special obligation since the family had been major players in the oil business to take action. She launched CLEAN (Citizen’s League for Environmental Action Now) to “find solutions for Houston’s environmental problems” with the help of “prominent scientists, medical doctors, environmental specialists, concerned citizens and representatives from several environmental groups.” I’ve been on the board for a number of years.

She has been an outspoken critic of fracking — “the most shocking thing going on right now” — especially because of its impact on our water supply. She wrote on Climate Progress:

We must ask, is it worth the cost when it takes from 3 million to 9 million gallons of water per fracture to extract this fuel? The withdrawal of large quantities of surface water can substantially impact the availability of water downstream and damage the aquatic life in the water bodies, says Wilma Subra, scientist and national consultant on the community and environmental impact of fracking. When groundwater resources are used, aquifers can be drawn down and cause wells in the area to go dry.

Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever,” Subra says.

If you want to get an idea of what kind of person she was, Google or Bing “Jane Dale Owen” and look under “Images.” You will see almost no pictures of her. She was not only generous but exceedingly humble, very much a behind-the-scenes type of person who wanted to support and highlight the work of others — scientists, doctors, and environmental health experts — rather than advancing herself.

Jane was a wonderful and unique environmentalist. I will miss her very much.