By Kevin Bogardus - 07/14/10 10:00 AM EDT
A half-dozen offshore drilling and oil services companies have formed a coalition to push back against the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium.
The Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition has hired lawyers, lobbyists and PR specialists at several K Street shops. Though shallow-water drilling has not been suspended by the White House — only deepwater operations have — the group believes the Interior Department is damaging its business by stalling drilling permits of all kinds.
It’s not just oil companies, though, turning to K Street to defend themselves against the oil spill’s legislative aftermath. Firms that service oil wells and those that can help with the massive cleanup operations have all hired lobbyists either to keep an eye on new, tough safety regulations or to help win cleanup contracts.
Scott Segal, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani who is lobbying for the coalition, said companies need representation on Capitol Hill as lawmakers react to the accident.
“There’s an old expression that bad facts make bad law. There’s a possibility that lawmakers, when looking at the oil spill, aren’t going to draw logical conclusions,” Segal said. “It stands to reason that members of the regulated community are going to want to tell their story in Washington.”
Others worry that lawmakers, while looking to get tougher on offshore operators, will end up regulating onshore producers more aggressively as well.
“It is creating this whirlpool of activity where everything is getting sucked in and no one has time to consider the long-term consequences,” said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Fuller said various bills are moving through multiple committees on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers using the oil spill as political leverage.
“All of this has become fair game. And when it is in this emotional context, there are no facts in play,” Fuller said. “That is why you are seeing this huge influx of lobbyist and consultant help.”
Many in the coalition — Ensco, Hornbeck Offshore Services, Hercules Offshore, Rowan Companies Inc., Seahawk Drilling Inc. and Tidewater Inc. — have not hired lobbying help before or not had K Street representation for years. But after the White House banned deepwater drilling, they turned to lobbyists to head off the danger that drilling work in general would suffer.
“The Interior Department has to offer consistent guidance. Otherwise, slow-walking the permits amounts to the same thing as a moratorium,” Segal said.
Lobbying for the coalition at the firm is not only Segal but also Edward Krenik, a former associate administrator at the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Michael Olsen, a senior Interior Department official during the last administration.
Bracewell has become a hub of oil spill lobbying since April. Along with the coalition, the firm has signed up Helix Energy Solutions, based in Houston, and Singapore-headquartered TMT Offshore Group.
Helix owns the Q4000 vessel, which is capturing and flaring off spilled oil now in the Gulf of Mexico. TMT owns a super-tanker called A Whale that was converted to separate spilled oil from seawater and has been sent to the Gulf.
Along with Bracewell, members of the coalition have hired other lobby firms to help with the workload.
Sabiston Consultants, run by Norma Jane Sabiston, a former chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), is working for the coalition. So is former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) at the Livingston Group.
Many bigger players in the oil spill have also added to their lobbying ranks. According to lobbying disclosure records, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., which owns part of the blown-out oil well, hired Hogan Lovells; Transocean, which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, hired Capitol Hill Consulting Group; and BP America hired the Eris Group.
Others have sought out lobbyists to help open doors in Washington because they need government approval to help with the cleanup operations.
The WinTec Group has hired the Ben Barnes Group for lobbying help. The Woodlands, Texas-based company has developed a special absorbent material, called HCA-10, to soak up oil and then be cleared from the spill area with no environmental damage.
“As an ordinary citizen, I have to go through a zillion doors to even get a chance to get in front of the EPA. When you go to a lobbyist, i.e., a Ben Barnes, he cuts all that out,” Held said.
Held said his company is hosting a test of its cleanup material for local parish officials and BP executives in a week. If successful, he hopes the company can then deploy the material into the Gulf to clean up the mess.
“If we can’t get to it quick enough, it could be a disaster. We are fighting, fighting for that every day. That is why we have Ben Barnes. He is carrying our banner every day,” Held said. “God bless him. He is doing a great job.”