The politicians point to a recent Texas merger. Photo via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators are calling on the Department of Justice to “use every tool” at its disposal to prevent and prosecute alleged collusion and price-fixing in the oil industry.

In a letter Thursday to Attorney General Merrick Garland and other officials, the Democrats said a recent Federal Trade Commission investigation into a high-profile merger uncovered evidence of price-fixing by oil executives that led to higher energy costs for American families and businesses.

The FTC said earlier this month that Scott Sheffield, the former CEO of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016 but returned as CEO in 2019. After retiring again in 2023, he continued to serve on its board.

The FTC cleared Houston-based ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer on May 2 but barred Sheffield from joining the new company’s board of directors. Pioneer, which is based in Dallas, said it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in 2023.

In a report, the FTC said collusion by Pioneer and others may have cost the average American household up to $500 per car in increased annual fuel costs, an amount Democrats called “an unwelcome tax that is particularly burdensome for lower-income families.'' Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil and other major oil companies collectively earned more than $300 billion in profits over the last two years, "a surge that many market experts believe cannot be explained away by increased production costs from the (coronavirus) pandemic or inflation,” Democrats said.

The letter calls for the Justice Department to launch an industry-wide investigation into possible violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. It outlined how “Big Oil’s alleged collusion with OPEC is a national security concern that aids countries looking to undermine the U.S.," including Russia and Iran.

“Corporate malfeasance must be confronted, or it will proliferate," the letter said. “These alleged offenses do not simply enrich corporations; hardworking Americans end up paying the price through higher costs for gas, fuel and related consumer products. The DOJ must protect consumers, small businesses and the public from petroleum-market collusion."

The letter by Senate Democrats was the latest in a series of partisan actions targeting the oil industry.

Separately, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland have formally asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Exxon, Chevron and other oil companies misled the public over decades about the climate effects of burning fossil fuels. Whitehouse and Raskin led a multiyear investigation that uncovered what they described as “damning new documents that exposed the fossil fuel industry’s ongoing efforts to deceive the public and block climate action.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have attacked President Joe Biden's energy policies, including a freeze on liquefied natural gas exports, restrictions on new oil and gas leasing on a petroleum reserve in Alaska and a decision to charge companies higher rates to drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands.

Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, said the Democratic president was “doing all he can to make it economically impossible to produce energy on federal lands.''

The letter released Thursday was signed by 23 Democrats, including Schumer, Whitehouse, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell of Washington state and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois.

The Center for Electromechanics at The University of Texas, Frontier Energy, Inc., and GTI Energy celebrated the grand opening of a hydrogen research and demonstration facility in Austin. Photo via utexas.edu

Texas hydrogen research hub opens to support statewide, DOE-backed initiative

hi to hydrogen

A Texas school has cut the ribbon on a new hydrogen-focused research facility that will play a role in a statewide, Department of Energy-funded energy transition initiative.

The Center for Electromechanics at The University of Texas, Frontier Energy, Inc., and GTI Energy celebrated the grand opening of a hydrogen research and demonstration facility in Austin as part of the “Demonstration and Framework for H2@Scale in Texas and Beyond” project, which is supported by the DOE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The hydrogen proto-hub is first-of-its-kind and part of Texas-wide initiative for a cleaner hydrogen economy and will feature contributions from organizations throughout the state. The facility will generate zero-carbon hydrogen by using water electrolysis powered by solar and wind energy, and steam methane reformation of renewable natural gas from a Texas landfill.

The hydrogen will be used to power a stationary fuel cell for power for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and it will also supply zero-emission fuel to cell drones and a fleet of Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles. This method will mark the first time that multiple renewable hydrogen supplies and uses have been networked at one location to show an economical hydrogen ecosystem that is scalable.

“The H2@Scale in Texas project builds on nearly two decades of UT leadership in hydrogen research and development” Michael Lewis, Research Scientist, UT Austin Center for Electromechanics, say in a news release. “With this facility, we aim to provide the educated workforce and the engineering data needed for success. Beyond the current project, the hydrogen research facility is well-positioned for growth and impact in the emerging clean hydrogen industry.”

Over 20 sponsors and industry stakeholders are involved and include Houston-based partners in Center for Houston’s Future and Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy. Industry heavyweights like Chevron, Toyota, ConocoPhillips, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are also part of the effort.

Texas hydrogen infrastructure and wind and solar resources position the state for clean hydrogen production, as evident in the recently released study, “A Framework for Hydrogen in Texas.” The study was part of a larger effort that started in 2020 with the H2@Scale project, which aims to develop clearer paths to renewable hydrogen as a “clean and cost-effective fuel” according to a news release. The facility will serve as an academic research center, and a model for future large-scale hydrogen deployments.

Participants in the DOE-funded HyVelocity Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub will aim to gain insights from the H2@Scale project at UT Austin. The project will build towards a development of a comprehensive hydrogen network across the region. HyVelocity is a hub that includes AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Orsted, and Sempra Infrastructure. The GTI Energy administered HyVelocity involves The University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Houston’s Future, and Houston Advanced Research Center.

“H2@Scale isn't just about producing low-carbon energy, it's about creating clean energy growth opportunities for communities throughout Texas and the nation,” Adam Walburger, president of Frontier Energy, says in a news release. “By harnessing renewable energy resources to create zero-carbon hydrogen, we can power homes, businesses, transportation, and agriculture – all while creating jobs and reducing emissions.”

CTV has announced its newest fund to deploy capital to innovative clean energy tech. Photo via Getty Images

Chevron launches $500M clean energy fund to target low carbon fuels, advanced materials

fresh funding

Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest fund raised to deploy capital into clean energy technology.

CTV's Future Energy Fund III has reportedly launched with $500 million — an increase from its second fund from 2021 that was valued at $400 million. The inaugural Future Energy Fund was established in 2018. Each fund has targeted separate technologies — from capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage in fund I to industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and circular economy in fund II.

"Future Energy Fund III, launched in 2024, will continue to look forward in the areas of focus for the earlier two funds and aims to expand investment in the areas of novel low carbon fuels, advanced materials, and transforming carbon to higher-value products," reads Chevron's website describing the Future Energy Funds.

The first two funds have invested in over 30 companies and has more than 250 other investors supporting low-carbon innovations.

CTV, based in Houston, has strategic partnerships with organizations within the Houston innovation ecosystem, including Greentown Labs, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Ion, The Cannon, and the HX Venture Fund.

"CTV engages a range of startup companies, investors, incubators and accelerators to access technology that can be used across Chevron now and in the future to enable us to operate more efficiently, to lower the carbon intensity of our operations and launch viable new businesses," reads the CTV site.

Founded in 1999, CTV invests in emerging energy technologies as well as incubating startups in its Catalyst Program. Last month, CTV added Cerebre, a software-as-a-service company that works with its customers to unlock and leverage data to tap into AI tools and digitization, to the Catalyst Program.

Cerebre is a software-as-a-service company that works with its customers to unlock and leverage data to tap into AI tools and digitization. Photo via cerebre.io

Chevron names SaaS startup to Houston accelerator program

ready to grow

A Boston-based startup that provides software for manufacturing plants has joined a Houston-based corporate accelerator.

Cerebre, a software-as-a-service company that works with its customers to unlock and leverage data to tap into AI tools and digitization, has joined Chevron Technology Ventures as part of its Catalyst Program.

“We are thrilled and honored to be selected by Chevron as part of the Catalyst Program," Founder and CEO Jeff Robbins says in a news release. "We are witnessing an explosion and convergence of technology never seen before.

"As the world races to build AI, we have worked extensively to help companies feed their AI models with high-quality data that represents the plant and their business," he continues. "We are energized to be recognized by Chevron as having a potential role to play in the industry’s transformation.”

Founded in 2017, the Catalyst Program accelerates early-stage companies that are working to transform the energy sector. CTV launched in 1999 to support externally developed technologies and new business solution.

Houston's HyVelocity Hub has joined in on a joint letter with the other six H2Hubs asking for revised guidelines. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's clean hydrogen hub joins request to revise federal tax credit guidance

edits needed

The group of regional hubs tapped by the United States government to receive funding to develop clean hydrogen projects have banded together to request a revision of the U.S. Department of Treasury's proposed hydrogen production tax credit (45V) guidance.

Houston's HyVelocity Hub, which was selected to receive up to $1.2 billion from the government's initiative, has joined in on a joint letter with the other six H2Hubs asking for revised requirements. HyVelocity also submitted its own letter to the Treasury.

HyVelocity's letter asks for flexibility and certainty the implementation of the “three pillars” for electricity, which include temporality, incrementality, and deliverability.

"It is imperative that to enable the desired environmental, economic, and equity goals of the IRA, private investment in hydrogen production must advance at scale and at an accelerated pace. Hydrogen production project investments require stable market projections and assurance of regulatory stability to ensure the economics of the long-term projects. To support this investment environment, we recommend that projects be granted a 'grandfathered exemption' such that for the project's life, they can use the regulations in place at the time when construction begins," reads the letter from HyVelocity.

HyVelocity, representing the Gulf Coast region, plans to create up to 35,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs across nine proposed core projects with a collective investment of more than $10 billion in private capital to bring low-carbon hydrogen to the market.

The Houston-area initiative is backed by industry partners AES Corporation, Air Liquide, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Mitsubishi Power Americas, Ørsted, and Sempra Infrastructure and The spearheaded by GTI Energy and other organizing participants, including the University of Texas at Austin, The Center for Houston’s Future, Houston Advanced Research Center, and around 90 other supporting partners from academia, industry, government, and beyond.

Chevron has a new speed bump on the road to a big acquisition. Photo via Chevron

Chevron's $53B acquisition of Hess Corp. sees hiccup

speed bump

Chevron warned Monday that its pending $53 billion acquisition of Hess may be in jeopardy because it will require the approval of Exxon Mobil and a Chinese national oil company, which both hold rights to development of an oil field off the coast of the South American nation Guyana.

The disclosure in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission raised investor qualms, depressing shares of both Chevron and Hess. Chevron's stock price fell 3% Tuesday morning before rebounding; Hess stock lost 4% of its value but bounced back slightly.

Chevron's acquisition of Hess would add this major oil field in Guyana as well as shale properties in the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. Guyana is a country of 791,000 people that is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest offshore oil producer, placing it ahead of Qatar, the United States, Mexico and Norway. It has become a major producer in recent years, with oil giants including Exxon Mobil, China’s CNOOC, and Hess squared off in a heated competition for highly lucrative oil fields in northern South America.

Chevron said it's been engaged in discussion with Exxon and CNOOC, aka China National Offshore Oil Co. Both companies hold rights of first refusal for decisions regarding the oil field in question, known as the Stabroek Block. Exxon Mobil operates the Stabroek Block and holds 45% interest. Hess holds 30% interest, and CNOOC holds the remaining 25% interest. Production capacity at the field is expected to reach more than 1.2 million barrels per day by the end of 2027, Exxon said in November.

If those discussions and subsequent arbitration fail to set aside those first refusal rights, Chevron said, “the merger would not close.”

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Elon Musk sees more resistance against his multibillion dollar pay package

just say no

A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

“The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

“Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

Things to know: $17.5B oil acquisition, new accelerator focuses on sustainability, and more in Houston energy

take note

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a podcast episode with a biotech leader, a very big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.


Big deal: ConocoPhillips to buy Marathon Oil for $17.B in all-stock deal

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion as energy prices rise and big oil companies reap massive profits.

The deal to combine the two Houston-headquartered companies is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt.

Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. Oil majors put up record profits after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and while those numbers have slipped, there has been a surge in mergers between energy companies flush with cash. Continue reading.

Podcast to stream: Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about." Continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.

Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.