C&BP Calls for State Dept. Investigation into Keystone XL Consultant’s Conflicts of Interest

ERMLetter

Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and State Dept. Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel

Yesterday, Checks & Balances Project and 11 environmental, faith-based and public interest organizations called on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel to investigate whether Environmental Resources Management (ERM) hid conflicts of interest which might have excluded it from performing the Keystone XL environmental assessment and how State Department officials failed to flag inconsistencies in ERM’s proposal. Tom Zeller, Senior Writer at The Huffington Post, wrote an article highlighting the letter callings for an investigation.

Early last month, the State Department released a 2,000 page environmental impact study for the Keystone XL pipeline claiming that the pipeline would not have major impact on the environment. But, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consulting firm hired to perform the “draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS),” has ties to fossil fuel companies with major stakes in the Alberta Tar Sands. This conflict of interest was not accurately disclosed  in ERM’s answers on a State Department questionnaire. Checks & Balances Project considers ERM’s responses in its proposal to be intentionally misleading statements.

Unredacted Documents Uncover Conflicts of Interest
Last week, Mother Jones released unredacted versions of the ERM proposal, showing that three experts “had done consulting work for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Keystone’s approval.”

The unredacted biographies show that ERM’s employees have an existing relationship with ExxonMobil and worked for TransCanada within the last three years among other companies involved in the Canadian tar sands.

Here’s more from Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll:

“ERM’s second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Five oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.

Another ERM employee who contributed to State’s Keystone report — and whose prior work history was also redacted — previously worked for Shell Oil; a third worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Shell and Koch have a significant financial interest in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERM itself has worked for Chevron, which has invested in Canadian tar-sands extraction, according to its website.”

When asked about who at the State Department decided to redact ERM’s biographies, a State Department spokesperson said “ERM proposed redactions of some information in the administrative documents that they considered business confidential.” Disclosing past clients may be business confidential information, but from what the biographies show, ERM may have recommended the redactions to hide conflicts of interest from public disclosure.

Problem with ERM Answers on Conflict of Interest Questionnaire 

ERMProposal

ERM’s Proposal to the State Department

The biographies on ERM’s proposal show that the company has had direct relationships with multiple business entities that could be affected by the proposed work in the past three years.

In the “Organizational Conflict of Interest Questionnaire,” the State Department asks (page 42), “Within the past three years, have you (or your organization) had a direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work?“ ERM’s Project Manager, Steve Koster, checked “No” but appears to have added to the Yes/No questionnaire that, “ERM has no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada.”

Regardless of the addendum Koster added, he still submitted an incomplete statement when checking “No” to the specific question above. Simply put, the information provided by Mr. Koster was an incomplete statement if one simply reviews the biographies of ERM’s employees for the project.

The State Department Contracting Officer should have flagged this inconsistency when reviewing the staff biographies.  ERM’s answers did not properly reveal in the Yes/No questionnaire that ERM did have a current “direct relationship” with a business enetity that could be affected by the proposed work and a relationship in the past three years with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

Koster’s incomplete statement on direct business relationships is not the only odd statement in ERM’s proposal. ERM also answered “No” to the question, “Are you (or your organization) an ‘energy concern?’” which the State Department defines (in part) as: “Any person — (1) significantly engaged in the business of conducting research…related to an activity described in paragraphs (i) through (v).” Paragraph (i) states: “Any person significantly engaged in the business of developing, extracting, producing, refining, transporting by pipeline, converting into synthetic fuel, distributing, or selling minerals for use as an energy source…” ERM as a research firm working for fossil fuel companies is, unequivocally, an energy interest.

So the question must be asked: If ERM is unable to accurately fill out a simple questionnaire regarding conflicts of interest, how can we trust the company to perform an unbiased environmental assessment of a 1,179 mile-long pipeline cutting through the American heartland? And, why did the State Department’s Contracting Officer not flag the inconsistencies in ERM’s Conflict of Interest Questionnaire when reviewing the proposals?

Intentions of State Department and ERM in Question

The Federal Government has strict ethics rules to prevent Organizational Conflicts of Interest (OCIs) from impacting the impartiality of government contracts and to prevent hiring contractors who cannot provide independent and unbiased services to the government.

According to a white paper from the Congressional Research Service, before the State Department could choose ERM as the contractor, the “Contracting Officer” had to make an “affirmative determination of responsibility.” All government contractors (including ERM) must be deemed responsible, in part by meeting strict ethics guidelines, known as “collateral requirements.”

According to current collateral requirements, contractors must be found “nonresponsible” when there are unavoidable and unmitigated OCIs. Checks & Balances Project believes that the Contracting Officer should have deemed ERM “nonresponsible” because the company serves as a contractor for major fossil fuel companies that have a stake in the Keystone XL pipeline. If ERM were “nonresponsible”, the company would have been ineligible to perform the environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

These potential material incomplete statements on a Federal Government proposal calls into question the integrity of ERM and threatens millions in government contracts.

If ERM were determined to be “nonresponsible” or “excluded” because of these incomplete statements, it could jeopardize ERM’s ability to perform any work for the Federal Government. Again, according to the Congressional Research Service:

“Decisions to exclude are made by agency heads or their designees (above the contracting officer’s level) based upon evidence that contractors have committed certain integrity offenses, including any “offenses indicating a lack of business integrity or honesty that seriously affect the present responsibility of a contractor.””

Certainly these incomplete statements call into question both the independence of ERM and the judgement of the Contracting Officer in making the “affirmative determination of responsibility.” This proposal process should be investigated by the State Department Inspector General to determine if ERM’s statements are cause for exclusion.

Groups Calling for Inspector General Investigation

We believe ERM used multiple material incomplete statements and had clear conflicts of interest as shown in the unredacted documents. So, why was ERM hired by the State Department?

Checks & Balances Project asked a State Department spokesperson about the conflicts of interest and the spokesperson said: “Based on a thorough consideration of all of the information presented, including the work histories of team members, the Department concluded that ERM has no financial or other interest in the outcome of the project that would constitute a conflict of interest.” Perhaps the State Department’s Contracting Offier made the decision to hire ERM because of the company’s incomplete statements on the conflict of interest questionnaire.

Harold Geisel, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. State Department

Checks & Balances Project along with 11 other groups (Better Future Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, DeSmogBlog, Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, NC WARN, Oil Change International, Public Citizen’s Energy Program and Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel calling for an investigation into the matter. These incomplete statements and the determination by the Contracting Officer that ERM did not have any conflicts of interest, despite clear evidence to the contrary, are grounds for further investigation.

Watching the Gas Bubble?

In recent months, it appears that top national media outlets have started to cast a more skeptical eye at how “abundant” shale gas really is.

The New York Times led the charge last year by analyzing “hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents.” The Times concluded that shale gas has inherent risks, the geology varies, and that data is sparse. According to their report:

In the e-mails, energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves. Many of these e-mails also suggest a view that is in stark contrast to more bullish public comments made by the industry, in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.

Despite attacks from the gas front group, Energy In Depth (EID), other outlets are beginning to confirm The New York Times original reporting. It’s far from clear that shale gas is magically “abundant.” Yesterday, Bloomberg reported similar conclusions in an article entitled, “Shale Bubble Inflates on Near-Record Prices”:

  • “Surging prices for oil and natural- gas shales…are raising concern of a bubble as valuations of drilling acreage approach the peak set before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.”
  • The “quirky nature of shale geology means the risks are high that an investment made in a sparsely drilled prospect will go bust.”
  • “[O]verseas investors are paying top dollar for fields where too few wells have been drilled to assess potential production.”
  • Hunt “has only drilled ‘a handful’ of wells in its Eagle Ford shale acreage, which means it doesn’t yet know how extensive or rich those holdings are.” The same problem exists in other shale formations around the country.

DeSmogBlog conducted a deeper comparison of the two reports showcasing the similarities between The New York Times and Bloomberg reports. It is clear now that EID lead mislead the public with unnecessary attacks on the Times’ Drilling Down series.

And, a new Reuters story quotes “public health professionals and advocates” arguing that the “public health effects of shale gas development need to be rigorously studied as production rapidly spreads in the United States.”

Here’s why this is important:  Without looking at the costs of contamination of public water supplies – as one industry study skipped altogether – it’s impossible to meaningfully evaluate the costs and benefits of shale gas. In other words, why talk about “abundance” without talking about cost?

Protesters highlight Clinton’s connection to Keystone XL

The connection between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was not missed by the thousands of protesters who staked out territory in front of the White House over the last two weeks.

On Thursday several protesters brought up the connection between lobbyists with TransCanada, which owns the Keystone, and the former presidential candidate. Clinton, whose State Department gave the green light to TransCanada just a week ago, was actually dealing with familiar faces in the approval process. As pointed out in this video, as well as several other reports, the chief lobbyist working for TransCanada is Paul Elliot, who just so happens to have been a high level campaign operative for Clinton during her failed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama.

“TransCanada‘s lobbyists, of you look at how much money they are pouring into public relations and advertising it’s clear they are running the show and calling the shots, which is a sad state of affairs in Washington, DC.,” said Steve Horn of the DeSmogBlog, who was covering the protests in front of the White House on Thursday. Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, who has been at the protests for a full two weeks pointed out that he still supports President Obama, though he says he is getting more skeptical by the hour that the administration will not step in to block the expansion of the Keystone XL.

“We are hopeful we are all wearing out Obama ’08 buttons on the other hand we are sitting outside his house and we know that too many tomes energy lobbyists have won out on these things,” said McKibben.

The video posted above shows protesters making their voices heard during Thursday’s demonstrations. Despite the passion of the crowd almost ever protester made a point to mention the connection between Hilary Clinton and TransCanada.

Video outlines industry influence over State Department and Keystone XL

As protestors continue to make their voices heard outside the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s connections to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have become a hot button issue with those opposing the project.

Clinton’s State Department gave the okay for President Barack Obama to rubberstamp the proposed pipeline, which would connect refineries in the Gulf Coast of the United States with Tar Sands reserves in the forests of northern Alberta. The latest connection for Clinton comes in the form of a cartoon parody thanks to some creative minds at the DeSmogBlog.com. The video, which is posted below shows Clinton in the presence of some “friends” from the fossil fuel industry, who just happened to make large donations to her failed presidential campaign in 2008.

 

 

Clinton and the State Department play a critical role in the in the approval process of the 1,600-mile crude pipeline because the pipeline crosses an international boundary. Though her diplomatic role in the process is a matter of governmental protocol, her ties to the companies involved with the Keystone XL have frequently been called into question. TransCanada, the company that owns the existing Keystone pipeline, hired former Clinton campaign operative Paul Elliott as their lobbyist to negotiate with the State Department. This has resulted in lawsuits from ethical organizations and calls for Clinton to recuse herself from the approval process. Clinton ignored those calls, and last week her State Department approved the proposal.  Now, only Barack Obama can halt the project.

Connecting the dots between gas industry tycoons and the NAT GAS Act requires ink by the barrel load.

A recent investigation by DeSmogBlog and PRWatch exposes just who stands to benefit from the NAT GAS Act and the expensive tactics being used to ensure it flies through congress. The most recent tactic is a public relations campaign by Chesapeake Energy, which included the gas giant’s “Declaration of Energy Independence.”

Chesapeake Energy’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is joined by T. Boone Pickens, when it comes to who will benefit from NAT GAS Act. The legislation calls for the government to cut checks to any company that transfers its fleet of vehicles to methane gas and to have citizens shell out their taxes so that methane gas fueling stations can be constructed throughout the country.

According to the DeSmog report, Chesapeake, “will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF’s Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company’s March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

The timing of Chesapeake’s launch of the “Declaration of Energy Dependence” is no coincidence. The NAT GAS Act is at a critical stage. It currently has 183 co-sponsors, but it is also being considered at a time when the United States is trying to reduce handouts from America’s taxpayers. But with the help a public relations army that even includes a methane gas funded television network, McClendon and Pickens are betting they can buy another handout for the fossil fuel industry.

Breaking from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog today released a comprehensive report on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing to public drinking water, land and our health. Based on the findings of the report and recent events, DeSmogBlog is calling for a national moratorium on fracking until further independent research demonstrates that the process does not contaminate drinking water, pollute land or impact the global climate.

See DeSmogBlog’s post below and study here.

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate – Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization.

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.

THE BALANCE SHEET: APRIL 26, 2011

Our weekly update to unravel the industry and political spin around the energy debate


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

WE’RE IN THE WRONG LINE OF WORK

While Americans are suffering from pain at the pump, Halliburton reported last week that its first quarter revenue set a company record at $5.3 billion, which is up from $3.8 billion in the first quarter of 2010. First quarter profits were up 148 percent from $206 million in 2010 to $511 million in 2011.

Halliburton cited increased U.S. onshore drilling activity as the reason for its success, with Chairman Dave Lesar stating, “North America delivered strong performance as margins progressed due to increased activity while Eastern Hemisphere operating income was significantly impacted by geopolitical events in North Africa, delays in Iraq, and typical seasonality.”

ANOTHER EARTH DAY, ANOTHER SPILL

A Chesapeake Energy Corp. well blowout occurred in Northern Pennsylvania Tuesday, spilling up to tens of thousands of gallons of toxic, chemical-laden fluid onto area residential land and contaminating a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The incident may be the most serious fracking accident in the history of the commonwealth’s Marcellus Shale development. DeSmogBlog has the story.

WORD GAMES

Last week, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director David Neslin testified before a Senate committee looking into hydraulic fracturing’s less than spotless track record on safety. Contrary to his testimony, where he asserted that groundwater contamination from fracking has never occurred, Neslin told The Checks and Balances Project immediately following the hearing that oil and gas production in Colorado had indeed led to contamination. Most drilling is fracking, so to say fracking does not cause groundwater contamination is disingenuous at best. Watch how Neslin and industry representatives use rhetorical tactics to excuse corporate responsibility for toxic fracking fluid casing leaks and pit overflows.

PRICE, NOT POLICY, DETERMINES HEALTH OF WESTERN ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

Headwater Economics on Tuesday released a report analyzing the relative success of states and communities to maximize energy development’s benefits and minimize its costs. The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for communities trying to achieve that goal. In five Rocky Mountain, energy-producing states – Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – Headwater Economics discovered that common sense standards and protections did not hamper energy production. Price was the ultimate factor in determining whether energy development occurs. Read the full report.

DID WE LEARN OUR LESSON FROM THE GULF OIL SPILL DISASTER?

Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington asks that question in his guest-commentary piece for Sunday’s Denver Post. Give it a read and let us know what you think.


DID YOU KNOW?

OIL & GAS NY LOBBY FUNDS UP 400 PERCENT IN TWO YEARS
In New York State last year, the oil and gas industry spent $1.6 million on lobbying to fight common sense protections from oil & gas fracking impacts, up from $400,000 in 2008.


COMING UP THIS WEEK

BLM TO REVIEW COMMERCIAL OIL SHALE LEASING PROGRAM

The Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management will host public hearings in three Western states – Colorado, Utah and Wyoming – beginning today to gather input from residents and experts as they review the federal oil shale leasing program. Find out more about the hearings.

Now that gas prices are hovering around $4 per gallon, risky schemes like oil shale are back in the national debate. Oil shale is pure science fiction, as companies have failed to produce commercial oil from oil shale despite a hundred years of experimentation.

Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) have all been throwing about this fantastic tale. Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more.

Furthermore, oil shale today is being conflated with shale gas and shale oil, giving the false impression that oil shale is ready for prime time. This has led to inaccurate rhetoric, and it has the potential to mislead investors, policymakers and other Americans interested in real energy solutions.

Compare what politicians are saying to those in the oil and gas industry, who believe viable oil shale is a decade out or more: Oil Shale Quotes – Congress v Industry


CONTACT US

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