Katie Porter preps hot seats for oil and gas execs

By Emma Dumain, Heather Richards | 05/07/2021 06:48 AM EDT

Rep. Katie Porter is making good on her promise to ask tough questions of the oil and gas industry in her new role as chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) at the Capitol in January.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) at the Capitol in January. Francis Chung/E&E News

Rep. Katie Porter is making good on her promise to ask tough questions of the oil and gas industry in her new role as chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The California Democrat’s aggressive pursuit of answers will begin in earnest this month. Yesterday, Porter announced that her first hearing, May 19, will "examine the contributions of the oil and gas sector to jobs and the economy."

To that end, she is inviting the CEOs of three oil companies to testify, according to screenshots of three cover letters she posted on Twitter addressed to William Thomas of EOG Resources Inc., Darren Woods of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Richard Muncrief of Devon Energy Corp.


"The oil and gas industry gets billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize their contributions to our economy," Porter tweeted. "But I’m curious … how are these corporations spending on the public good? I invited some CEOs to testify [before the committee] so my colleagues and I can find out."

It’s not clear whether Thomas, Woods and Muncrief will agree to participate. Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in his capacity as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, invited Woods, Chevron Corp. CEO Michael Wirth and BP America Chairman David Lawler to testify at a hearing on climate change. None of them showed up (E&E Daily, April 9).

Spokespeople for the oil and gas companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Porter, like Sanders, has made no secret of her deep distrust for the fossil fuel industry. The first bill she introduced as a member of the Natural Resources Committee — H.R. 1517, the "Ending Taxpayer Welfare for Oil and Gas Companies Act of 2021" — would raise royalties, rental rates, inspection fees and penalties on oil and gas companies that extract resources on public lands for the first time in a century (E&E Daily, March 10).

The panel passed the legislation Wednesday, 23-14, in a party-line vote, with Republicans calling it part of a "death by a thousand cuts" strategy Democrats were deploying to decimate the oil and gas industry.

The markup at one point devolved into partisan bickering, with Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), whose district relies on offshore drilling, accusing Democrats like Porter of working to halt all domestic energy extraction. Porter said Graves was "engaged in an act of shilling" for the oil and gas industry (E&E Daily, May 6).

"The reality is," Porter said, "you represent oil and gas for people who work in those industries in many cases, but you also represent large oil and gas industries, and they are major contributors to your campaign, and you have a close relationship with them. I, on the other hand, don’t take contributions from people who work in the oil and gas industry."

Oil battles

The oil and gas industry has come under intense scrutiny, especially in light of the broad climate focus of the Biden White House.

As observers saw it play out earlier this week in the Natural Resources Committee, that scrutiny largely falls along party lines, with Republicans acting as champions for traditional fuels — and the regions that depend on those industries — and Democrats championing the environment and communities impacted by pollution.

The division has become a headache for the Biden administration as it looks at reforming the federal oil and gas program and potentially raising royalty rates to account for climate costs (E&E Daily, Feb. 25).

Biden ordered a pause on new oil and gas lease sales shortly after taking office, pending a climate and fiscal analysis of the program. Lawmakers in crude-producing states and representatives of the oil and natural gas sector quickly rallied in opposition. The Western Energy Alliance has sued the administration over the leasing pause (E&E News PM, Jan. 27).

An interim report on the programmatic review will be made public this summer. It’s unclear, however, when the full analysis will be complete, when leasing will resume and what the White House may choose to do in the wake of that analysis.

For their part, Democrats on Capitol Hill are also focused on reforming the federal oil and gas program by amending the foundational laws that Biden can’t change, like the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 — the target of Porter’s legislation.

Two of the CEOs Porter has asked to speak in her hearing — to be convened virtually due to continued pandemic safety protocols — represent significant acreage in the federal oil patch and would be affected by reforms.

EOG Resources and Devon Energy are sizable independent oil companies that drill in places like Wyoming and New Mexico, the two largest states for federally owned oil and natural gas.

In contrast, Exxon Mobil is the largest U.S. oil company and the largest modern iteration of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. It holds tremendous acreage across Texas’ Permian Basin and refineries along the Gulf Coast.

But reform of federal oil and gas development, which is a small fraction of the overall oil and gas output of the country, is not the only oil interest for Democrats or Biden: The president has also called for an end to subsidies enjoyed by oil and gas drillers, saying in January, "I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to Big Oil."

Porter has made it clear she shares that sentiment. In a tense exchange with an oil developer from New Mexico during a March hearing, the congresswoman was critical of drillers’ ability to deduct intangible drilling costs — a tax benefit that allows producers to write off some costs of drilling a new well (E&E Daily, March 10).

"Please don’t patronize me by telling me that the oil and gas industry doesn’t have any special tax provisions," she said at the time. "If you would like that to be the rule, I would be happy to have Congress deliver."