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.

Houston has its stamp on the project in multiple ways with Gulf LNG Tugs boasting two Houston area companies in Bay-Houston Management LLC and Suderman & Young Towing Company. Photo via glenfarneenergytransition.com

Houston companies combine for massive tugboat and export project

plugging into LNG

Texas LNG, a four million tonnes per annum liquefied natural gas export terminal to be constructed in the Port of Brownsville, and a subsidiary of Glenfarne Energy Transition, announced the selection of its new partner.

Gulf LNG Tugs of Texas will operate, build, and deliver tugboats under an agreement to assist LNG carriers arriving at the facility. Tugs of Texas is part of a consortium of Suderman & Young Towing Co., Bay-Houston Towing, and Moran Towing Corp., and the tugboats will be among the “most modern, low-emissions tugboats available to serve a facility of Texas LNG’s size” according to the company. This will also align with Texas LNG’s "Green by Design" approach, and the deal is a long-term agreement.

The projected port for Texas LNG is considered to be an area with consistent operating temperatures, and reliable maritime operations with lower probability of impact from inclement weather like storms and damage associated with them. Globally, Texas LNG is also designed to be one of the lowest-emitting export terminals. Texas LNG is developing the project site on the north shore of the Port of Brownsville. This area offers access to a deep-water ship channel in close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal.

“Gulf LNG Tugs is excited to be providing marine services in a long-term partnership with Texas LNG,” the companies say in a joint statement. “We are proud to be the exclusive tug operator for LNG vessels to yet another successful LNG project in the Port of Brownsville and look forward to expanding our operations in the port and our presence in the Rio Grande Valley community."

Houston has its stamp on the project in multiple ways with Gulf LNG Tugs boasting two Houston area companies in Bay-Houston Management LLC and Suderman & Young Towing Company.

New York and Houston-based Glenfarne works to provide solutions to lower the world’s carbon footprint, which aligns with the common goals of all the companies involved.

“The Texas LNG team undertook a comprehensive process to identify a marine service provider that not only matches our commitment to environmental stewardship, but also provides our customers with reliable, cost-effective marine services,” Brendan Duval, CEO and Founder of Glenfarne Energy Transition said in a news release. “We are pleased to have Gulf LNG Tugs on board as a partner and look forward to the jobs and local content they will bring to both Texas LNG and the local Rio Grande Valley community."

Texas LNG recently announced that it signed a Heads of Agreement with EQT Corporation for natural gas liquefaction services for 0.5 MTPA of LNG, in addition to partnerships with Baker Hughes and ABB to help develop the terminal. This represents equipment selections for Texas LNG to date that is worth half a billion dollars’ worth.

Construction is slated to begin this year after the financing of the project is finalized.

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Houston company expands JV to build new power generation, storage assets

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Houston-based Conduit Power is broadening the scope of its joint venture with Oklahoma City-based Riley Exploration Permian.

Under this deal, the joint venture, RPC Power, will build power generation and storage assets for the sale of energy and related services to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid for the bulk of Texas.

RPC Power, established in March 2023, owns and operates power generation assets that use Riley Permian’s natural gas to power its oilfield operations in Yoakum County, located in West Texas.

The expanded relationship will enable RPC Power to sell power and related services to ERCOT, with plans for 100 megawatts of natural gas-fueled generation and battery energy storage systems across facilities in West Texas. The facilities are expected to start commercial operations in 2025.

In conjunction with the expanded scope, Riley Permian bumped up its stake in RPC Power from 35 percent to 50 percent. Furthermore, it plans to sell up to 10 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to RPC Power as feedstock supply for the new generation facilities.

"Our JV expansion at RPC Power represents a significant milestone for our company, and we are proud to build upon our successful partnership with Riley Permian,” Travis Windholz, managing director of Conduit, says in a news release.

Conduit, a portfolio company of private equity firm Grey Rock Investment Partners, designs, builds, and operates distributed power generation systems.

Riley Exploration Permian specializes in the exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas reserves, primarily within the Permian Basin.

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.