Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar identified himself as a lawyer for oil and gas giant Anadarko immediately following a fatal home explosion in Firestone last month, International Business Times and MapLight are reporting.
Investigators say an improperly abandoned flowline attached to an Anadarko well caused the blast.
Salazar, also a former Democratic U.S. Senator who weighed a 2018 bid for governor but decided against it, spoke with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top attorney, Jackie Melmed, about the explosion, according to an email IBT and MapLight obtained. That email is dated April 26, the same day Hickenlooper’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Frederick-Firestone Fire Department linked the explosion to an Anadarko well nearby.
Anadarko shut down 3,000 wells as a precaution that day. Hickenlooper spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery confirmed to The Colorado Independent that Salazar phoned the governor’s office and identified himself to Melmed as Anadarko’s legal counsel.
In their story, IBT reporters David Sirota and Lydia O’Neal, and Andrew Perez of Maplight, note that Salazar, who currently works as a partner with international law firm WilmerHale, “has previously said he would honor federal ethics laws by walling himself off from matters in which he was involved at the agency.” He has been working for Anadarko in Colorado, they report, “though he has not registered to lobby for the company there, state records show.”
Luis Toro, director of watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, says Salazar’s decision to provide legal counsel does not count as lobbying. “He promised not to lobby as a federal official,” he said, “but he’s not lobbying the federal government, and he’s not lobbying after Colorado state law.” He added, “Whether you approve of him working for Anadarko after being U.S. Secretary of the Interior is a matter of personal opinion, but it’s not an ethics issue.”
The authors write:
When Salazar left the Interior Department, he told the Houston Chronicle “a number of walls may have to be erected” to prevent conflicts of interest in his private sector work. He specifically said that because of his involvement in the Deepwater Horizon spill, he made an arrangement to be “permanently walled off from any BP work and money, now and forever” — but he did not say if that wall included other firms like Anadarko that were also linked to the leak.
Under federal ethics rules, Salazar was not permitted to lobby the federal government for two years on behalf of any client. The rules also permanently bar Salazar from working in the private sector on … specific matters in which he participated during his time leading the Interior Department.
Those rules, however, only cover the federal government, not state officials.
In recent years, former elected officials have been criticized for failing to register as lobbyists even as they work for companies on public policy matters. Salazar has not registered as an Anadarko lobbyist, even though Colorado lobbying rules are generally designed to compel registration from those who are pressing public officials on behalf of companies.
The authors also note that as interior secretary, Salazar “led a department that oversaw Anadarko — and at times helped the company.” In 2010, they report, the department “waived environmental rules for an Anadarko offshore drilling project after the Deepwater Horizon spill even though Anadarko partially owned the well involved in that disaster.” They report that Anadarko has quoted Salazar’s support for fossil fuel development in its own promotional materials.
Sirota, O’Neal and Perez add:
Hickenlooper has ordered a statewide review of all oil and gas lines in Colorado that lie within 1,000 feet of an occupied building, and he is currently weighing whether to support disclosure legislation against which Anadarko successfully lobbied in the days after the calamity in Firestone, Colorado. That bill — which Colorado Republican lawmakers recently blocked after Anadarko donated to a political group supporting them — would have forced oil and gas companies to release maps telling homeowners how close they live to oil and gas lines.
Hickenlooper, a former oil industry geologist, has in the past helped the fossil fuel industry try to thwart regulatory measures. On the disclosure bill, Hickenlooper said he generally supports more transparency, but he has wavered on whether he believes the legislation is necessary, saying, “I’m not compelled that it’s got to be the state that controls that.”
State records show Anadarko in 2017 successfully lobbied against not only the disclosure legislation but also against two other bills designed to restrict fracking and drilling in Colorado.
Salazar did not return a message left with his office at WilmerHale in time for publication.
It’s unclear how some Colorado Democrats view Salazar’s post-government work writ large. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall told The Colorado Independent he hadn’t yet heard about Salazar’s work for Anadarko. He declined to comment for this story.
Colorado Rep. Joe Salazar, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, says he is sure the former interior secretary hasn’t done anything improper.
“I really don’t know what the relationship is between Ken and Anadarko, but I’m certain that he would follow the letter of the law,” Joe Salazar says. “While it may not look good, it’s almost certainly not unethical what he’s doing.”
But, he added, “I think it’s utterly tone deaf concerning how Coloradans feel about the oil and gas industry.”
Read the the full IBT story here.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Creative Commons, Flickr