Legislative conflict of interest with ConocoPhillips on both sides of the table

The resources committee hearing described in this column had all the signs of a coordinated campaign event with ConocoPhillips to boost the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, Kevin Meyer, a ConocoPhillips employee.

Plus, ConocoPhillips modified its presentation in a way that concealed a key bit of information from legislators. A slide that said the future cost of supplying the oil from the Willow project is expected to be below $40 a barrel was inexplicably changed to exclude that detail.

In a response published Saturday in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Jon Katchen and Ed King claim to see "hostile pessimism" on my part. Whatever that means, they are wrong about it.

Skepticism, not hostility, is called for when dealing with the world’s largest companies and other powerful interests.

Katchen and King refused to deal with the matter of having ConocoPhillips on both sides of the table. They think I am one of those scoundrels “trying to diminish the optimism that everyone else is feeling about the future.”

I would not have written what I did about the ConocoPhillips candidate for lieutenant governor had the circumstances and his behavior been different. His actions in addressing a fellow company employee and campaign contributor exposed a weakness in our laws about legislative conflicts of interest.

The legislators invited Scott Jepsen, a vice president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, to give testimony during an election-time hearing.

He spoke not just about his company’s plans, a subject on which he has expertise, but about other companies, a subject on which he is not an expert witness. Jepsen said the oil business is looking up on the North Slope, but warned that any increase in oil taxes would be a disaster.

Jepsen, who has contributed to Meyer and eight other GOP candidates during this election cycle, did not explain why a slide that ConocoPhillips had included in presentations to investors was edited to remove a key bit of information—that the cost of supply to its proposed Willow project is expected to be below $40 a barrel.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to understand that ConocoPhillips would love to have one of its employees in the executive branch.

Its presentation, which excluded risk factors and qualifiers that must be made when anyone talks about billions of dollars that have yet to be committed by a wide range companies, should be interpreted in that light.

The “question” posed to him by Meyer dealt with a slide that showed all significant North Slope projects, not just those from their employer.

“So in the previous slide, slide 15, you talk about the hundreds of thousands of new barrels of oil per day, plus approximately $13 billion in capital is the estimate that will be spent, can we assume then since we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and some would say that has something to do with our crime rate as well, can we assume then that the jobs will grow correspondingly with the amount of capital being spent?” Meyer said.

Meyer did not disclose his conflict of interest with Jepsen because the law does not require that to be disclosed.

Dermot Cole5 Comments