Today, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will begin his nomination hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the next U.S. Attorney General. By now, most people have heard that he was rejected for a federal judgeship thirty years ago for being a racist. His positions against voting rights have also been widely reported.
Last month, Steve Horn at DeSmog published a fascinating story revealing that Sessions introduced the first bill to try to exempt fracking companies from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We looked a bit more at what Sessions was up to, and found that that same year — in 1999 —his wife held big investments in the oil and gas company leading the fracking charge in Alabama.
DeSmog reported that during Sessions’ first term as senator, he was the sole co-sponsor of the original Halliburton Loophole bill, introduced in March 1999 by fellow climate science denier Senator James Inhofe.
The bill, which was folded into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, would ultimately exempt underground injections of fracking fluids from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. DeSmog uncovered that this was done with strong backing from the Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission, and it stemmed from controversy surrounding the practice in Sessions’ home state.
From the late 1980s through the 1990s, coal beds in Alabama were being fracked for natural gas. After residents complained of impacts to their drinking water, they petitioned the EPA to enforce its regulations of fracking injections under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Under the Clinton Administration, the EPA refused to reconsider approval of what Alabama underground injections regulators were doing on fracking: looking the other way. (For more on this history, read Steve Horn’s piece on DeSmog and this 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.)
Building off of the DeSmog story, we’ve discovered that when Senator Jeff Sessions introduced the original Halliburton Loophole, he and his wife had sizable stakes in Energen, the Alabama-based oil and gas company that pioneered fracking in the state.
In 1995, as Sessions was running for his senate seat, his wife held between $1,001-$15,000 in Energen stock. They reported the same for 1996. In 1997 and 1998, the same range in value was posted as jointly owned. But in 1999 — the year Inhofe and Sessions introduced the bill to exempt Energen’s and other fracking operations from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act — the senator reported that his wife had separately acquired through inheritance an additional stake in Energen, valued at $15,000-$50,000.
By 2008, they had cashed out in a profitable way — after averaging about $10 a share in 1999, Energen stock hit a yearlong high of $78 a share in May of 2008.
Senator Sessions’ legislative efforts in 1999 would have directly benefited Energen, at the same time he and his wife held large investments in the oil and gas company. And when Sessions ran for reelection in 2002, Energen gave $5,000 to his campaign. This episode speaks volumes about his ethics and judgment, to say nothing of his priorities.
Today, in related news, the Washington Post revealed that Senator Sessions has failed, in preparation for his confirmation hearings, to disclose the oil and gas mineral rights that he owns on more than 600 acres of land, some of which is beneath public lands.