Feb 10, 2022
Amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which could have far-reaching implications for energy markets in central Europe, U.S. President Joe Biden has increased gas exports to Germany and surrounding countries, benefiting members of Congress who own--and are buying up more--stock in pipeline and tanker companies.
That's according to new reporting published Wednesday by the nonprofit investigative outlet Sludge, which previously identified at least 28 U.S. senators and 100 House members whose households own stock in oil and gas companies or hold other investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Journalist David Moore noted that "the fossil fuel industry rushed to link domestic gas exports with European security," citing a recent blog post by an operative from the American Petroleum Institute (API)--Big Oil's most powerful lobbying group--and the Wall Street Journal's reactionary editorial page.
Several members of Congress have sought to take advantage of surging liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports by significantly increasing "their investments in energy companies, especially pipeline companies and midstream service providers that transmit fossil gas to export terminals," wrote Moore.
Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), for instance, bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in a tanker company in January, according to Sludge:
[Green]... was recently interviewed by National Public Radio on a trip to Kyiv along with the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). Green is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration, and International Economic Policy. Not mentioned in the interview from Ukraine was Green's millions of dollars worth of stock trades in oil and gas pipeline companies last year like Enable Midstream, Enlink Midstream, and Shell Midstream Partners. Just last month, Green purchased between $150,000 and $350,000 worth of stock in LNG and oil tanker company KNOT Offshore. As of the end of 2020, Green held millions of dollars worth of stock in four methane gas companies, but he diversified his holdings with over 150 stock transactions in the stocks of at least 20 energy and pipeline companies throughout 2021.
Enterprise Products Partners--a Houston-based oil and gas pipeline company that rewarded Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for helping to kill the Build Back Better Act as his biggest donor in 2021 and the employer of his son-in-law--is seeking to expand its operations with a proposed offshore exporting terminal that would be the first in the U.S. big enough to serve the largest class of supertankers.
At the end of 2020, Rep. Trey Hollingsworth's (R-Ind.) only pipeline investment was up to $15,000 worth of stock in Enterprise. Last year, however, he purchased as much as $1.55 million in Enterprise shares and up to $3.65 million in Magellan Midstream Partners--his sole areas of investment.
Other House members with stock in Enterprise Products as of the end of 2020 include the following: Rep. Patrick Fallon (R-Texas), up to $50,000 worth; Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), up to $50,000 worth; Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), up to $15,000 worth; Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tex.), up to $15,000 worth; Pep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), up to $15,000 worth; and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who held up to $50,000 worth and transferred his investments to a blind trust in August 2021 after he was found to have violated House disclosure rules.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) owns up to $250,000 worth of Enterprise stock in a joint trust, and his colleague Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) owns up to $500,000 worth of shares in Enterprise.
\u201cLatest: members of Congress who own stock in pipeline companies like Enterprise Products stand to profit from the push to export liquid fossil gas amid Russia-Ukraine tensions.\n\nhttps://t.co/GySSuFdlrd\u201d— David Moore (@David Moore) 1644430164
Enterprise "could see its exports to Europe rise if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is shut down because of Russian military actions," wrote Moore, who explained the geopolitical context:
With Russia massing its military presence along the border with Ukraine, the Kremlin could seek to weaken the international blowback by constricting gas supply delivered through pipelines in Ukraine. The result would be to ratchet up already near record-high costs for German businesses and households. Germany is projected to have enough gas in reserve for the cold months ahead and has been investing in renewable energy, and energy industry experts say it's unlikely that Russia would entirely cut off the flow of gas because of the severe economic risks to its export markets. But Russian gas accounts for about a third of German supply and over 15% of its electricity generation, making up Europe's largest gas source, so the pinch could be real.
The global scramble for gas cargo comes amid a rise in lobbying and intense congressional debate over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, completed in September and now awaiting permits and approval, which bypasses Ukraine by running under the Baltic Sea and could double the fossil gas pumped to Germany from Russia. An effort to slap sanctions on Nord Stream 2, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was blocked last month in the Senate when it received 55 votes in favor, needing 60 votes to break a Democratic filibuster. The new pipeline is owned by Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of Gazprom, the Russian majority state-owned energy company, with Western partners including Germany's Uniper and Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, President Biden has laid down a clear marker that the Nord Stream 2 project would not be allowed to open.
Although U.S. exports "would not be enough to make up for the vast Russian supply," Moore added, "they would serve to develop trade channels for future shipments of fracked fossil gas to Germany."
Despite numerous scientific warnings about the need to halt new fossil fuel projects to have a chance of averting the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis, extraction is on the rise in the U.S., which is projected to become the world's top LNG exporter in 2022.
As Common Dreams has reported, last decade's drilling and fracking boom turned the Permian Basin into the "single most prolific oil and gas field" on the planet, and Congress' decision to lift a ban on crude exports in late 2015 precipitated a massive build-out of pipelines and related infrastructure.
Moore explained how "well-connected American gas companies are poised to capitalize on the export boom":
Houston-headquartered Cheniere Energy is the largest LNG exporter in the U.S., billing itself as the second-largest in the world, and runs two export facilities on the Gulf Coast. In recent months, Cheniere signed long-term deals that helped secure financing for expansion, including at its Corpus Christi project in Texas. Sludge previously reported Biden's multiple ties to Cheniere when he launched his presidential campaign in 2019, including tapping as a climate adviser Heather Zichal, who made over a million dollars as a Cheniere board member. Zichal was tapped in December 2020 to work as CEO of trade group the American Clean Power Association, which promotes renewable energy from wind and solar sources. The group's board of directors features numerous executives at giant energy companies that use fossil fuels, including electric companies AEP, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, NextEra, and Xcel, as well as oil and gas company Equinor, conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, and AES, an energy company that operates LNG terminals.
Writing about potential warfare in Ukraine, Guy Laron, a senior lecturer in International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noted Wednesday in The American Prospect that Russia and the U.S. "have a decades-long history of competing over the European energy market" and argued that "energy supply is not a complicating factor but the main reason the crisis began."
"Washington is in no hurry to respond to Russian threats," Laron continued. "The crisis plays right into the hands of American shale gas companies, which are reaping a windfall."
"American liquefied natural gas exports to Europe increased by 40% in the last quarter of 2021 and are expected to be much higher during the first quarter of 2022," he added. "American energy executives have declared in recent weeks that they were eager to replace Russian pipeline gas with American liquefied gas."
As some U.S. lawmakers profiteer from the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, progressives and government watchdog groups continue to push for a ban on individual stock trading by members of Congress and their immediate family members, a proposal that is supported by a vast majority of voters.
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