As attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt worked closely with the fossil fuel industry in his state. So closely, in fact, that when Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, emailed him a draft letter in 2011 opposing a federal effort to limit methane gas leaking from drilling operations, Pruitt changed a few words, put the letter on his own letterhead, and sent it to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Devon Energy was pleased. “Outstanding!” William Whitsitt, who directed government relations at the company, emailed Pruitt after Pruitt’s office sent their letter to the EPA as though it was written by the attorney general himself, the New York Times reported. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”
The New York Times obtained both versions of the letter through an open-records request in 2014, calling it evidence of an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” between Pruitt and the oil and gas industry.
The letter still haunts the attorney general, who is now US president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA. At Pruitt’s confirmation hearing Jan. 18, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon brought a giant poster with both copies of the letter blown-up and highlighted to show how little Pruitt changed from the Devon Energy version.
The letter can be viewed in more detail here.
“Do you acknowledge that 97% of words of that letter came from Devon Energy?” Merkley asked Pruitt, noting that only 37 of the over 1,000 words in the three-page letter were Pruitt’s own. “Why do you need an outside oil company to draft a letter when you have 250 people working for you?”
Pruitt did not directly answer the question, but repeated that in sending the letter he was representing not just Devon Energy, but the concerns of the oil and gas industry statewide.
“A public office is about serving the public. There is a public concern about the effect of methane on global warming,” Merkley continued. “But you used your office as a direct extension of an oil company rather than as an extension of the people of Oklahoma.”
Methane is up to 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. “Fugitive” methane routinely and steadily escapes from oil and gas drilling operations undetected, and scientists estimate that leaks in the US are vastly undercounted—especially given the sharp uptick in natural gas production in the country—so much so that the US’s actual yearly methane emissions might be 50% more than we thought.