May 23, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Democrats circle Big Oil in collusion, climate probes

A drum of oil poked with pins. Illustration.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Senior Capitol Hill Democrats are opening one new investigation of oil companies while urging the Justice Department to launch another.

Why it matters: The separate moves yesterday were heavy on public messaging, but might also bring more aggressive probes of the industry, during an era of industry consolidation and elevated oil prices.

Driving the news: Senate Budget Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse formally asked DOJ to look into decades of alleged deception and disinformation on climate by oil giants to see if laws were broken.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight panel, joined the request that's based on a long investigation by both committees.

Meanwhile, House energy committee ranking member Frank Pallone asked seven firms, including Chevron and BP America, about potential contacts with OPEC+ and other U.S. producers.

  • He cited the Federal Trade Commission's recent claim that former Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield years ago engaged in "collusive activity" on production with OPEC+ reps that could raise prices.

The other side: Pioneer, which was just acquired by Exxon, has denied the claims. Similarly, Exxon has called the FTC allegations about Sheffield "entirely inconsistent" with its practices.

  • Turning back to the Whitehouse-Raskin DOJ request: the American Petroleum Institute — which is name-checked in the referral — called it an "unfounded political charade."
  • "U.S. energy workers are focused on delivering the reliable, affordable oil and natural gas Americans demand, and any suggestion to the contrary is false," API spokesperson Andrea Woods said.

The intrigue: House Democrats' oversight powers are very limited, but Pallone and Raskin could dig deeper if Dems re-take the chamber.

  • DOJ, meanwhile, did not comment.
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