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Former Obama Energy Aide Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Face photo of Heather Zichal

Revolving door: An Obama energy aide may join a fracking giant.

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board.

The announcement, made through Cheniere’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company’s stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders’ vote and the company’s by-laws.

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman‘s book The Frackers — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere’s audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit dommittee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company’s annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere’s audit committee charter further explains.

Cheniere (stock symbol LNG, shorthand for “liquefied natural gas”) is currently awaiting a final decision on Corpus Christi LNG, its proposed LNG exports facility. That terminal would send gas obtained predominantly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the global market.

The company already received the first ever final approval to export fracked gas from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in April 2012 for itsSabine Pass LNG export terminal, which is scheduled to be operational by late-2015.

The nature of what role Zichal will play on the board and audit committee of the first company to make a major bet on LNG exports remains unclear. But one thing remains clear: she joins a politically well-connected cadre of Cheniere board members.

Other prominent Cheniere board members include John Deutch, former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Vicky Bailey, a FERC commissioner, both of whom worked for the Clinton administration.

And given Zichal’s former role as liaison between the oil and gas industry at the White House and her track record serving in that role, it raises the question: was she working for the industry all along?

Zichal Oil and Gas Services

Zichal was best known to many as the main mediator between the oil and gas industry and the White House during her time working for the Obama administration. In fact, Cheniere cites that experience as the rationale for nominating her to serve on the board.

“Zichal has extensive knowledge of the domestic and global energy markets as well as the U.S. regulatory environment,” reads the “skills and qualifications” portion of her nomination announcement on Cheniere’s Schedule 14A. “She brings a diversified perspective about the energy industry to our board having served in significant government positions during her career.” 

As Obama’s “climate czar,” Zichal headed up the effort — mandated via an April 13, 2012 Obama Executive Order — to streamline regulatory oversight of the gas industry in the U.S.

Titled, “Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources,” the Executive Order signed in the form of a “Friday news dump” created “a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate…domestic natural gas development” overseen by Zichal.

Obama signed the Executive Order after meeting with Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute (API), and other industry leaders. According to EnergyWire, API requested the creation of that working group.

“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress,” Gerard told the Associated Press in response to a question about the order.

A month later on May 15, Zichal spoke to API about her efforts and those of the Obama administration on fracking.

“It’s hard to overstate how natural gas — and our ability to access more of it than ever — has become a game-changer and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy,” she told API.

Just think about it: a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that the United States would need to build more terminals to import natural gas overseas. And today, America is the world’s leading producer of natural gas and we’re actually exploring opportunities for exports.

As a May 2012 Bloomberg article explained, among Zichal’s tasks was wooing API head Jack Gerard, which she appears to have succeeded at.

Similar to the interagency working group created by the April 13, 2012, Executive Order, Zichal also oversaw the Bakken Federal Executives Group, which was created through the signing of Executive Order 13604 on March 22, 2012. That order was part of the same package that called for expedited building of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Executive Order 13604 created an interagency steering committee with a goal “to significantly reduce the aggregate time required to make federal permitting and review decisions on infrastructure projects while improving outcomes for communities and the environment.”

Zichal was also instrumental in legalizing the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s (ALEC) approach for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands, overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

“Zichal met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” reported EnergyWire. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

Beyond overseeing streamlined permitting for fracking sites on both public and private lands, Zichal also oversaw the White House file for the Pavillion, Wyo., fracking groundwater contamination study.

Conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many believe the White House — counseled by Zichal — made a political calculus to cancel the ongoing investigation, the first of three major major studies on the subject shutdown by the EPA.

“Deeply Embedded”

The Zichal nomination is taking place alongside the deployment of the Obama Administration regulating coal-fired power plants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule is a de facto endorsement of fracking and gas-fired power plants as part of the “all of the above” energy policy.

As the Zichal case makes clear with regards to climate change-causing fracked gas, LNG exports flow through the revolving door in Washington, DC, and beyond.

“The fact that one of Obama’s top climate advisors is now helping expand fossil fuel use raises questions about how deeply embedded oil and gas industry interests are in the administration,” Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace USA told DeSmogBlog.

Warren Buffett Buys Pipeline Company Stake on Same Day as North Dakota Train Explosion

9:42 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On December 30, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products Inc.

Owned by Phillips 66, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, Phillips Specialty Products’ claim to fame is lubricating oil’s movement through pipelines,increasingly crucial for the industry to move both tar sands crude and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in an efficient manner.

“Phillips Specialty Products Inc … is the global leader in the science of drag reduction and specializes in maximizing the flow potential of pipelines,” explains its website.

Buffett — the second richest man in the world — sees the flow lubricant business as a lucrative niche one, increasingly so given the explosion of North American tar sands pipelines and fracked oil pipelines.

“I have long been impressed by the strength of the Phillips 66 business portfolio,” he said of the deal in a press release. “The flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway.”

Already owning 27 million shares of Phillips 66, the marriage between Berkshire and Phillips 66 was a natural one. Corporate law firm giant Bracewell & Giuliani provided Phillips 66 legal representation for the deal.

Buffett Cashing in on All Facets of Big Oil

Few understand the increasing importance of freight rail transportation of oil better than Buffett. But he also understands it’s not an either-or choice: pipelines also are key for moving oil to targeted markets.

In the rail sphere alone, BNSF moves over 1 million barrels per day of Bakken crude to market, with The Dallas Morning News declaring in June 2013 that “without BNSF, the great North Dakota oil boom wouldn’t be as big.”

On top of Phillips Specialty Products and BNSF, Buffett also bought a $3 billion stake in ExxonMobil in November 2013. This came just a few months after he purchased over half-a-billion dollar stake in Suncor.

Far from “either-or,” for Buffett then, it’s a game of investing in “all of the above” of Big Oil’s assets.

“Dodged a Bullet”

In the aftermath of the BNSF’s massive freight train explosion in Casselton, Mayor Ed McConnell told the press the city with 2,329 citizens was lucky to have “dodged a bullet,” with no fatalities from the disaster.

“There have been numerous derailments in this area,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when. We dodged a bullet by having it out of town, but this is too close for comfort.”

In July 2013, another “bullet” came in the form of a freight train carrying oil obtained via fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. That one exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Dubbed “bomb trains” by many train crews due to their volatility and containment of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the smoking gun in Casselton was the mushroom cloud ascending after the BNSF train exploded.

With the freight rail industry carrying unprecedented levels of oil to market and rail car explosions happening with greater frequency — led in the forefront by BNSF — it’s an industry with many serious safety questions to answer as we turn the page to 2014.

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Buys Fracking Wells In Ohio’s Utica Shale

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO and Founder Aubrey McClendon is back in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) game in Ohio’s Utica Shale in a big way, receiving a permit to frack five wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on November 26.

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded McClendon’s new company, American Energy Utica LLC, five horizontal well permits Nov. 26 that allows oil and gas exploration on the Jones property in Nottingham Township, Harrison County,” a December 6 article appearing in The Business Journal explained. “In October, American Energy Utica announced it has raised $1.7 billion in capital to secure new leases in the Utica shale play.”

McClendon is the former CEO of fracking giant Chesapeake Energy and now the owner of American Energy Partners, whose office is located less than a mile away from Chesapeake’s corporate headquarters.

The $1.7 billion McClendon has received in capital investments for the purchase of 110,000 acres worth of Utica Shale land came from the Energy & Minerals GroupFirst Reserve CorporationBlackRock Inc. and Magnetar Capital.

McClendon — a central figure in Gregory Zuckerman’s recent book “The Frackers” — is currently under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He left Chesapeake in January 2013 following a shareholder revolt over controversial business practices.

In departing, he was given a $35 million severance package, access to the company’s private jets through 2016 and a 2.5% stake in every well Chesapeake fracks through June 2014 as part of the Founder’s Well Participation Program.

Little discussed beyond the business press, McClendon has teamed up with a prominent business partner for his new start-up: former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

Power Mapping McClendon’s New Venture

“[Lee] Raymond has emerged as a director alongside Mr. McClendon in American Energy Ohio Holdings LLC… according to [an SEC] regulatory filing,” The Wall Street Journal reported in October.

The former Exxon CEO’s brother son John Raymond is the Managing Partner, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of Minerals & Energy Group, currently the largest capital investor in McClendon’s start-up venture. He is also a partner McClendon’s new venture. Ryan Turner, Chesapeake’s Stock Plan Manager has also joined the team as a partner.

“Jefferies Group LLC gave financial advice to American Energy” for the deal,according to Bloomberg — and is listed as such on American Energy Ohio Holdings LLC’s SEC Form D.

Ralph Eads III — McClendon’s fraternity brother at Duke University — serves as Global Head of Energy Investment Banking at Jefferies Group, Inc.

“Mr. Eads…is a prince of this world,” the New York Times reported in October 2012. ”His financial innovations helped feed the gas drilling boom, and he has participated in $159 billion worth of oil and gas deals since 2007.”

Eads maintained tight financial ties with McClendon when he was at the helm of Chesapeake Energy.

High Stakes Game

In teaming up with Lee Raymond, the former CEO of ExxonMobil — notorious for its role in funding climate change denial — and his brother John, McClendon has shown he is back in Ohio ready to play ball.

But a recent Environmental Integrity Project report indicates the life-cycle climate change impacts of fracking are more severe than previously thought.

With the U.S. Navy predicting an ice-free Arctic summer by 2016 due to climate change, it’s a ball game with undeniably high stakes.