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Texas Oil Baron Accused of Colluding with OPEC Made Millions in Campaign Donations

Former Pioneer Energy CEO Scott Sheffield and son have spent nearly $6.2 million on campaigns for Texas and federal offices since 2010

WASHINGTON D.C. — A Texas oil baron under federal scrutiny over crude oil price-fixing allegations and his oil tycoon son have ramped up their political spending in recent years, giving generously to federal and state political campaigns — including the Trump re-election effort and the elected leaders of the Texas oil and gas regulator, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. 

Scott Sheffield, former CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, and his son, Bryan Sheffield, an oil investor and founder of the Austin-based private equity firm Formentera Partners, have given a combined nearly $6.2 million in political contributions to Texas and federal candidates since 2010, according to the report. About $3.7 million of this political giving was to candidates seeking election in Texas, including candidates for offices responsible for regulating oil and gas drilling in the state. Nearly $2.5 million went to federal candidates, including recent contributions of about $420,000 from Bryan Sheffield supporting Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. 

Pioneer Natural Resources has been the largest oil driller in Texas until its acquisition by Exxon Mobil this year. As part of that merger in May of this year, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that Scott Sheffield sought to collude with representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to keep prices and profits high by constraining production. The FTC blocked Scott Sheffield from serving on the board of Exxon Mobil, which acquired Pioneer for nearly $60 billion and referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution.

“Extensive political giving by Big Oil, both in Texas and at the federal level, helped produce an environment of lax state and federal oversight of the oil and gas industry,” said Alan Zibel, author of the report and an oil and gas researcher with Public Citizen. “In that climate, Scott Sheffield allegedly pursued a brazen strategy to reduce output and raise prices. Political contributions by Bryan Sheffield in support of Trump’s reelection highlight the oil and gas industry’s potential to influence a possible second Trump administration. Congress and the Department of Justice resist Big Oil’s pressure and get to the bottom of this story to deter such actions in the future and ensure that American consumers are protected from corporate greed and wrongdoing.”

If the allegations of collusion are proven true, Sheffield would have been able to keep a lid on production, allowing companies like Pioneer to reap monster profits at the expense of the public, and driving inflation higher,

The political contributions of the Sheffields and their companies in recent years included nearly $620,000 to the campaigns of the elected officials who run the Texas Railroad Commission, the entity responsible for regulating oil and gas in the state, including nearly $400,000 to Christi Craddick, the commission’s current chair.

“When regulators regard corporations as hand-in-glove partners, without skepticism or distance, companies may exploit lax enforcement and engage in egregious lawbreaking,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The cozy relationship between Texas fossil fuel companies and state regulators has consequences for Texans and the American public.”

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