Ernest Moniz (L), Obama's nominee for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) is shown here with CNRS President Alain Fuchs. (jeanbaptisteparis / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Obama’s Man in Frackademia

The president’s pick to head the Department of Energy has deep ties to the oil-and-gas industry.

BY Steve Horn

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At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry.

Reprinted with permission from desmogblog.com.

Congress will review the Obama Administration's nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that began Tuesday, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing (”fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry. 

MIT's “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry's number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.”

As first revealed on DeSmogBlog, Moniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands—also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit”—from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him. 

Moniz's American Petroleum Institute ties

Another controversial industry-driven export plan exists for fracking. In this arena, the DOE—via the consulting firm National Economic Research Associates (NERA), a firm with historical ties to Big Tobacco—said exports of the U.S. shale gas bounty (LNG exports) were in the best economic interests of the U.S. in its long-awaited Dec. 2012 report.

In a Feb. 2013 follow-up report the American Petroleum Institute (API) sang the same tune, agreeing with the NERA assessment. In actuality, that report was not even done by API itself, but instead was outsourced to ICF International, where Moniz serves as a board member.

If he receives congressional confirmation, Moniz will jump ship from his ICF Board of Directors position and have the final say over DOE LNG export decisions. 

While heading the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz also worked alongside John Deutch. Deutch headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under President Bill Clinton and now serves as head of the Board of Directors of Cheniere Energy, a corporation that owns many proposed LNG export terminals along the Gulf coast

Cheniere was the first corporation to sign a deal to export gas from its Sabine Pass terminal and it recently filed a request to the DOE to expand that terminal's holding capacity. He also headed the DOE fracking subcommittee convened by President Obama in May 2011, which consisted entirely of oil and gas industry insiders.

Further, the Vice President of ICF International is Karl Hausker, the husband of Kathleen “Katie” McGinty, one of the members of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel and also a member of the DOE fracking subcommittee. She recently threw her name into the ring as a Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate for the 2014 election in Pennsylvania.

On top of her public sector appointments, McGinty is also an Operating Partner alongside former PA Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell at Element Partners, a Philadelphia, PA-based firm that has capital investments in several firms operating in the Marcellus Shale. McGinty also serves on the Board of Directors of NRG Energy, an electric utility that owns natural gas-fired power plants (and coal and nuclear ones, too—aka “all of the above”) throughout the U.S. 

Obama's binders full of conflicts-of-interest

On top of the recent Cheniere proposal to the DOE to expand capacity of its Sabine Pass terminal (and therefore, its ability to export more gas to the global market), Dominion recently announced it will be submitting a proposal to the DOE to expand the size of its proposed Lusby, MD-based Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal

In other words, the gas industry isn't joking about its desires to export shale gas to the global market, despite paying homage to the necessity to frack for “national security” and domestic energy purposes.  

Public Accountability Initiative's (PAI) report on Moniz, Deutch and the MIT Energy Initiative at-large titled, “Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?” raises the logical take-away question. It's one that at this point seems more rhetorical than Socratic in nature: “Will a similar team be installed at the Department of Energy under Moniz, and will it continue this advocacy for LNG exports from a new position of influence?”

Tyson Slocum, head of the Energy Program at Public Citizen is also alarmed by these developments and answered PAI's question bluntly. “Moniz represents the status-quo all-of-the-above fossil-energy approach at a time when we can’t afford the status quo,” says Slocum.


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Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist.

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