By Kevin Bogardus - 09/18/11 10:00 AM EDT
A former member of Congress is lobbying to bring a major oil company back to Somalia.
The Moffett Group, headed up by former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), has been hired by the Puntland State of Somalia to encourage ConocoPhillips to reinvest in oil-rich tracts of land the company owns in the region but abandoned in 1991.
Under the contract, his firm’s compensation is $10,000 per month, according to Moffett. The agreement lasts a year.
Located on the very tip of the Horn of Africa, Puntland has been an autonomous state since 1998.
Documents filed by the firm with the Justice Department say Moffett and others will represent the Puntland government before the Obama administration, Congress and other U.S. entities.
“It will work towards the goals of promoting peace, security and political stability in Puntland through socio-economic development and helping Puntland benefit from its own natural resources,” the documents say.
Also included with the Justice records is a June 7 letter from the president of Puntland, Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud Farole, to Moffett.
The letter says ConocoPhillips abandoned its oil exploration activities in Puntland in 1991 when the Somali central government in Mogadishu collapsed, leading to 20 years of civil war and splintered government.
“The peace, security and political stability in Puntland can be sustained through socio-economic development, such as better schools and hospitals, construction of public infrastructure, light industry, and job-creation. As such, it is a matter of urgency that Puntland needs to benefit from its own natural resources, including potential oil reserves,” the letter states.
The letter asks Moffett to help find “a tangible solution” to ConocoPhillips’s “inactivity” in the country.
Moffett said he plans to contact Conoco to ask them about what they plan to do with their oil interests in Somalia.
“It needs to develop them. Yes, we're going to have conversations with Conoco and politely ask them what their plans are,” Moffett said. “Depending on what they plan to do, they may face questions from Congress and from NGOs, asking why they are sitting on natural resources that could help Puntland when the country is struggling so.”
Moffett said he is familiar with senior figures tied to Conoco. Ruth Harkin, the wife of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Ken Duberstein, former Reagan White House chief of staff and chairman and CEO of the lobby firm, the Duberstein Group, serve on the oil company’s board of directors.
Moffett will have a difficult case to make.
Security is an issue in the region where armed gangs and pirates are prevalent and have attacked oil company officials in the past. But Moffett points to a new deal reached between leaders of several regional Somali governments, including Puntland, which is designed to put a long-lasting national government back in place.
“It is not without merit, that position,” Moffett said, referring to security concerns. “I think the historic agreement is going to change that so that Puntland will be even more stable. It gives the Obama administration and U.S. companies a foundation for reexamining the situation.”