In 2017, we at PAI & LittleSis boosted our commitment to researching a major sector of corporate and political power: the fossil fuel industry. We kicked off several new initiatives in our oil and gas work and made a renewed effort to connect with frontline organizers who are resisting the corporate forces behind the climate crisis.
Here is a recap of some of our work this past year, as well as some updates on where current oil and gas fights stand.
The Power Behind the Pipelines
As many know, the rush towards a build-out of new oil and gas pipeline infrastructure is a central trend within the larger fossil fuel industry right now. This pipeline boom will lock in huge carbon emissions for years to come, and it’s being strongly resisted by environmentalists, native communities, and others. Two key recent pipeline battles – Dakota Access and Keystone – have highlighted the scope and intensity of this resistance.
Given all this, we thought it would be useful to bring power structure research to the pipelines – to uncover the networks of influence, lobbyists, regulatory conflicts, and financing behind some of the most contested pipelines. With this in mind, we kicked off our “Power Behind the Pipelines” series, which will continue into 2018.
Here are the three pipelines we examined in 2017:
Our first report looked at the Pilgrim Pipeline, a proposed 178-mile pipeline that would carry crude oil down from Albany, New York to Linden, New Jersey and refined oil products back up. Our report analyzed the opaque private equity backing behind the pipeline, the ties of Pilgrim Pipeline management and supporters to the Koch brothers, and the array of powerful lobbyists pushing it that have ties to the New York and New Jersey governors.
We’ve followed up our coverage of the Pilgrim Pipeline with stories that look at the Ramapough Lenape Nation’s anti-pipeline resistance. The pipeline, which is incredibly unpopular in the communities it will run through, remains in a state of limbo, with no agreements for storage terminals or refineries on either end of its proposed route.
We published our second Power Behind the Pipelines report in March, this one about the Northern Access Pipeline planned by the vertically integrated drilling, midstream, and utility company National Fuel.
Our report, which found that the $500 million pipeline to ship fracked gas to Canada would be indirectly financed by National Fuel’s proposed $41 million rate hike on utility customers, was covered by a number of regional papers, which came out in opposition to the hike.
In the following month, New York State rejected National Fuel’s pipeline application and reduced its rate hike by 84%.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Our third report was on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed gas pipeline that will cut about 600 miles through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The ACP, backed by a consortium of powerhouse companies that includes Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, emerged as one of the biggest pipeline battles of 2017.
Our report laid out the vast web of corporate power behind the ACP, its army of revolving door lobbyists, it’s paid-off politicians, and its financing. Our staff worked with groups on the ground to circulate the report’s findings to activists and news outlets, a number of which reported on it, including NPR, Southeast Energy News, and the News Leader. We also uncovered industry funding behind pro-ACP op-eds and faulty polls on our news site.
The ACP has since been approved by FERC and has passed or is close to passing some final state-level benchmarks, but resistance to it remains adamant.
PAI has long reported on “frackademia,” or the ways the fossil fuel industry funds and influences friendly academic studies to boost public support for fracking. In 2017 we continued this line of work.
Line 3 Pipeline
In November, we released a report and series of accompanying articles highlighting an industry-led effort to generate support for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. The report showed how an Enbridge-backed regional business coalition paid the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) to produce a friendly jobs and economic impact study that pipeline backers then promoted to the public.
We also uncovers the huge conflicts of interest behind the Duluth News Tribune’s coverage of the Line 3 pipeline and the UMD study. Our report was covered by City Pages, the Twin Cities’ alternative weekly paper.
We reported on a study from Louisiana State University touting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, planned by Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which shows the school’s conflicts of interest with the oil and gas industry.
The report author David Dismukes has a long history of publishing on behalf of oil industry clients, the Center for Energy Studies which Dismukes directs is advised by a council made up mainly of oil industry executives and lobbyists – including lobbyists for the companies behind the pipeline, and one of the college’s former supervisors – and the state’s former Secretary of Natural Resources – Scott Angelle earned more than $1 million as a board member at one of the firms building Bayou Bridge.
The August unveiling of the official portrait of Ernest Moniz in the Department of Energy was cause to revisit our 2013 report “Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?” which examined a study Moniz led at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That study, which we found to be “marred by undisclosed conflicts of interest, pro-industry advocacy, and poor scholarship similar to that which resulted in retractions and resignations at other universities,” promoted the expansion of domestic natural gas drilling and the export of liquefied natural gas abroad.
Those positions were staples of the Obama administration’s energy policy when Moniz took the helm shortly after his MIT study was published. This year, that study was included in the painting of Moniz on display at the Department of Energy.
Our research into the “fracketeers,” the oligarchs making millions from oil and gas drilling, yielded reporting on now-former Trump advisor Stephen Schwarzman, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, and Atlanta Hawks co-owner Antony Ressler.
Schwarzman, the billionaire CEO of Blackstone Group, is invested in nearly every sector of the oil and gas industry. With Blackstone’s recent acquisition of Harvest Fund Advisors, Schwarzman has a particularly large stake in controversial pipeline projects by Energy Transfer Partners – including the Dakota Access, Mariner East, Bayou Bridge, and Rover pipelines facing widespread outcry over their threats to water supplies and the global climate in addition to native sovereignty.
Our fracketeer profile of Tom Farrell, the powerful CEO of Dominion Energy that is driving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, looked at Farrell’s compensation and his family, corporate, and board ties to powerful entities across Virginia. And our post on Tony Ressler, the private equity billionaire who is funding the PIlgrim Pipeline, examine his elite connections from Wall Street to Hollywood.
Puerto Rico’s Fracketeer: Hedge Fund Billionaire Seth Klarman
Another fracketeer is the Boston hedge fund manager Seth Klarman.
In October, PAI along with the Intercept’s David Dayen helped to unmask Klarman’s fund Baupost Group as the investor hiding its massive holdings of Puerto Rican debt behind a set of 10 shell companies. The austerity measures pushed by Klarman and other debt vultures seeking to squeeze profits out of the impoverished island helped worsen the humanitarian disaster caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In November, we revealed how Klarman and Baupost also fueled the disaster with investments in the fossil fuels that supercharged the hurricanes. We found that Baupost’s $1.8 billion in equity in oil and gas companies – including natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy and Appalachian fracking firm Antero Resources – made up 21% of the fund’s public holdings.
Klarman is also a trustee at the Koch- and Exxon-funded American Enterprise Institute, which has peddled climate change denial for years.
Jerry Brown’s Million-Dollar Conflict of Interest
California Governor Jerry Brown may sell himself as a climate hero, but there are several reasons to question this narrative. In August, we wrote at length about one of them: his sister’s well-compensated board membership with the parent company of the Aliso Canyon gas field which – after a historic methane leak – Brown agreed to reopen.
Later in November, we posted a brief round-up of some of Brown’s other questionable ties to fossil fuels – including big donations from oil and gas companies, his pro-fracking stance, lax regulations around wastewater injections into the ground, and the limits of cap-and-trade program.
Exposing Astroturf Campaigns
One of the oil and gas industry’s biggest tactics – and one that is intensifying with the growing opposition to fossil fuels – is the funding of top-down astroturf media campaigns that pose as grassroots efforts aimed at manufacturing public support for the industry’s projects.
In our ongoing effort to increase transparency, we made a point of uncovering these kinds of industry campaigns – for example, with the fossil fuel-backed Consumer Energy Alliance attempts to promote the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota and oil and gas interest throughout New England.
While 2017 was a busy year for our oil and gas work, we hope to expand our impact in 2018 with more collaboration with organizers and new hard-hitting reports and articles. Stay tuned!