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.

ExxonMobil got initial approval of its $60 billion deal to buy Houston-based Pioneer Natural Resources. Photo via ExxonMobil.com

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.

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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.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”