conflict of interest

Thu, 2013-03-28 05:00Sharon Kelly
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More Financial Worries Coming to Light in Domestic Shale Drilling Industry

Virtually anyone who has followed the onshore drilling bonanza knows the name Aubrey McClendon and the company he co-founded, Chesapeake Energy.

McClendon was the hard-driving CEO and chairman of one of America’s most aggressive drilling companies, but he was brought down earlier this year after a string of financial scandals and potential conflicts of interest came to light. It turned out that at the heart of the natural gas industry’s poster child lay financial practices that drew the ire of investors, the attention of SEC investigators and the fixation of the news media.

But in the past several months there have been a series of largely under-reported events that demonstrate that Mr. McClendon's problems are by no means distinct.

Might the drilling industry have broader financial issues?

Wed, 2012-05-30 08:35Brendan DeMelle
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What Chesapeake Energy's Financial Scandals Mean For The Rest of Us

Given radioactive wastewater, earthquakes, and flammable tap water, one might think that drilling and fracking could not possibly have any more dirty secrets. But here’s the biggest secret of all: it’s expensive.

With natural gas at historic low prices – the Wall Street Journal ran a column recently suggesting that the price of gas might even sink to negative numbers, so that producers would need to pay buyers to take it off their hands – it may seem odd to think that fracking is costly. But it’s true. Not just in terms of its environmental footprint, but also in terms of its financial costs.

And everyone should care about how expensive gas is, especially those concerned about energy security and the environment, because the answer will determine the fate of renewables, the way we use land and water, and whether our nation’s energy policies are fundamentally sound.

To understand what’s going on, you need to look at Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the US, the company described by its founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon as the “biggest frackers in the world.”

For 19 of the past 21 years, the company has operated at what investors call “cash flow negative” – last year by $8.547 billion dollars – meaning that Chesapeake has consistently spent a whole lot more than it earned. For decades.

To fund all that fracking, the company has been flipping land, engaging in so many financial transactions that it’s been said to resemble a hedge fund more than a gas driller.

McClendon's company has become the environmental Enron, with Chesapeake's accountants creating some of the most labyrinthine and impenetrable books since Enron, according to some investors.

Fri, 2012-04-06 13:29Brendan DeMelle
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Heartland Payments to University of Victoria Professor Susan Crockford Probed

University of Victoria adjunct professor Susan Crockford doesn't seem interested in discussing the monthly payments she appears to receive from the climate denying Heartland Spinstitute.

Crockford would not respond to emails, and refused to speak with the Martlet,” reports a UVic student newspaper attempting to probe the payments.

The Heartland Institute's Denialgate documents indicate that the spinstitute gives Crockford $750 per month. She is one of three Canadian university professors on the denier dole at Heartland, along with Madhav Knandekar and Mitch Taylor.

Greenpeace contacted the University of Victoria to raise conflict of interest questions relating to Heartland's payments to Crockford, who has a history of denying climate science as a speaker for its anti-science International Climate Science Coalition. See Greenpeace's letter to the University of Victoria.

But apparently the University isn't interested in investigating the matter, stating that, because Crockford is “not a member of regular faculty,” it won't probe allegations of conflict of interest.

“She is a member as a non-remunerated appointment as an adjunct, a professional zooarcheologist associate,” a university spokesperson told The Martlet correspondent Mark Worthing.

Thu, 2012-02-09 13:01Brendan DeMelle
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Accountability Moment: Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce Squirms And Evades Question on Fossil Fuel Funding

Robert Bryce from the fossil fuel industry-funded Manhattan Institute just can't bring himself to answer a simple question about the fossil fuel industry funding flowing into his group. Readers of DeSmogBlog may recall our previous coverage about Bryce's anti-clean energy attacks in the New York Times op-ed pages and elsewhere.

Citing the prime example of Robert Bryce's conflict of interest, I asked the Public Editor at the New York Times last year why the paper doesn't require its op-ed contributors to disclose their funding sources so that readers can make up their own minds about the potential bias of these contributors.

Since Bryce is typically only listed as a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, that doesn't let the reader know that his organization has received a significant amount of money from dirty energy interests including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. That's an important factor in evaluating the rationale behind Mr. Bryce's bias against clean energy.

Watch below as Gabe Elsner, my friend at the Checks and Balances Project, asks Bryce the simple question about his funding from fossil fuel interests. 

Gabe explains: 

I asked Bryce if he had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry after his debate appearance before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference on Monday. Not only did Bryce refuse to answer the question, he also launched into an angry, finger-pointing tirade saying that I’d “made up” the amount of fossil fuel support documented by Manhattan Institute records.

Watch the clip with Gabe's analysis embedded:

Tue, 2011-10-11 19:27Brendan DeMelle
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Journalists Ask NYTimes To Set Disclosure of Conflicts Policy For Op-Ed Contributors

Back in June, I wrote about my effort to seek answers from The New York Times public editor’s office regarding the paper’s lack of a policy for disclosure of possible conflicts of interest among op-ed contributors. In my query to the NYT, I specifically cited the example of Robert Bryce from the Manhattan Institute, a group funded by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and other polluters to confuse the public about climate change and energy issues.

Bryce had penned an op-ed attacking renewable energy while promoting nuclear and fracked shale gas, with no disclosure in his byline about the Manhattan Institute’s fossil fuel clients. I offered Bryce's piece as an example in order to formally seek answers about the disclosure policy at the Times and whether it was adequate in light of the failure to disclose Bryce’s dirty energy backing.

I didn’t get a concrete answer from Public Editor Arthur Brisbane’s office – his assistant acknowledged that “this is a topic that interests due to the number of emails we receive from readers on it,” but rather than answer my questions or take action to highlight the policy oversight, he told me “We're going to keep your email on file in the event that we decide to tackle this issue in the future.”

With our attention at DeSmogBlog diverted in the ensuing months by the Keystone XL pipeline controversy, the ever-growing list of the Koch Brothers’ threats to decency and democracy, and other dirty energy issues to focus on, I felt that another group would be better suited to devote attention to the NYT disclosure matter.  I asked my friend Gabe Elsner at the Checks & Balances Project to take a look at my blog about Bryce and the failed efforts to get a satisfactory answer from the NYT Public Editor’s office.

Well, I’m grateful to Gabe for following through, since the issue is finally gaining some recognition, with the launch of TrueTies.org (designed by Checks and Balances Project) and a petition by 50 journalists echoing the call for The New York Times to lead the industry by creating a disclosure policy for op-ed contributors.

Thu, 2011-06-16 10:10Brendan DeMelle
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Manhattan Institute Op-ed Exemplifies Why NY Times Should Require Disclosure of Financial Conflicts

The New York Times ran an op-ed last week by Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, a group funded by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and other polluters to confuse the public about climate change and energy issues. Robert Bryce goes to great lengths to portray solar and wind power as land-hogging energy choices. He suggests that fracked shale gas and nuclear are somehow more environmentally preferable energy options.

This is a common argument from Bryce, who had a similar pro-fracking op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week, and who has emerged as one of the loudest of a growing cadre of critics of clean energy. Most of these critics are, not surprisingly, affiliated with “institutes” (i.e., front groups) that get money from the dirty energy industries that solar and wind are starting to disrupt.

Bryce’s argument was quickly debunked by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which points out a number of factual errors and omissions in the Manhattan Institute representative's piece.  AWEA was correct to take on Bryce's misinformation and set the record straight. Climate Progress also picked apart Bryce's claims in detail.

But one important question remains - why does The New York Times print such misleading opinion pieces without revealing the clear conflict of interest that a Koch/Exxon-funded front group representative has on such matters? Did the Times’ even ask, and does it do so as a matter of standard practice? {C}

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