Big oil companies lobby against U.S. national security interests, try to weaken Iran Sanctions Act

This TP cross-post is by Joshua Dorner and Rebecca Lefton of CAP’s Progressive Media.

The recent revelations about BP’s alleged role in pressing for the release of convicted Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in order to secure valuable oil concessions in Libya provides a potent reminder of the influence oil companies and other major corporations exert over foreign policy.  New evidence uncovered by ThinkProgress shows that America’s own oil giants are also trying to shape U.S. foreign policy to protect or enhance their own profits, even if it puts American security at risk.

Lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate this week show that the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Halliburton lobbied the House, Senate, and various executive branch agencies on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act during the first half of the year as the bill was being debated in the Senate.

Big Oil’s interest in weakening the law is obvious.  Among other things, the new law, signed by President Obama on July 1, imposes significant new sanctions on individuals and corporations “that directly and significantly contribute to Iran’s ability to develop petroleum resources” and that sell more than $200,000 in fuel or other refined petroleum products to Iran.  The new sanctions are important because “although Iran is the second-largest oil producer in the world, it lacks refining capacity and relies on foreign suppliers for nearly 5 million gallons of gasoline a day.”  In addition, the country’s energy industry is “a huge source of revenue for the Iranian government and a stronghold of the increasingly powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” which “oversees Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.”

Big Oil has no shortage of experience in doing business with Iran.  A New York Times investigation revealed that many of these same companies often want to have it both ways by doing business with Iran at the same time that they receive billions in contracts and revenues from the U.S. government:

  • ExxonMobil, which spent $2.5 million on lobbying last quarter, currently enjoys $4.9 billion in revenues from federal oil and gas leases and sold fuel additives to Iran until 2006.
  • Shell, which spent $4 million on lobbying last quarter, has $11.9 billion in revenues and benefits from the U.S. government, a wide variety of business relationships with Iran, and is alleged to be in violation of the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act“”the very law amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act.
  • ConocoPhillips, which spent $5.5 million lobbying last quarter, accrues $1.7 billion in revenue from federal grants and oil and gas leases and still actively profits from selling gasoline to Iran via Lukoil, in which it holds a minority stake.
  • Halliburton has a whopping $27.1 billion in government contracts and, until 2007, provided oil and gas drilling services to Iran through a foreign subsidiary. 

Big Oil helps prop up Iran’s regime in another important way: by opposing strong clean energy and climate legislation.  The kind of strong legislation to move us off oil that is vocally opposed by the American Petroleum Institute would deny Iran $100 million a day in petrodollars.

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act passed the House 412-12 and the Senate 99-0, so it’s not surprising that Big Oil’s activities in Iran are not very popular.  While the websites of API and the oil companies say virtually nothing about Iran, ConocoPhillips appears to have inadvertently posted dozens of complaints it received about profiting from doing business with Iran.  One commenter simply says “screw your buddies in Iran,” while another writes “I hpoe [sic] you choke on the blood stained money that you make from Iran.”

13 Responses to Big oil companies lobby against U.S. national security interests, try to weaken Iran Sanctions Act

  1. catman306 says:

    I thought the big oil, coal, and industrial companies ARE the government. It surely looks that way from where I sit, but I don’t watch TV to dissuade me from that viewpoint. American foreign policy becomes crystal clear when you remove the politics, religion, and spin from the mix. That leaves big money.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    A (Bad) Joke, or Call It a Paradox

    According to Forbes’ recent special issue about “The World’s Leading Companies”, five of the six most profitable companies in the world are oil and gas companies.

    And contemplate this:

    According to a recent article in The New York Times, GM is doing very well in China now. Apparently, one out of every four cars GM sells is sold in China, and the Chinese market is growing well for them. But, I thought that we were trying to take steps to encourage China to reduce GHG emissions, or at least get into a credible position to do so?

    At the same time, GM’s Chairman is on the Board of Directors of ExxonMobil. And ExxonMobil does not seem eager to help the world substantially reduce its addiction to oil or to automobiles that use it.

    I ask: How are we (the American public, the government, etc.) going to get ourselves off of our addiction to oil, and how are we going to get ourselves in a credible position to negotiate with China to do so, if our own companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, GM, and so forth) are pushing oil and the cars that use it in both the U.S. and in China, as well as elsewhere? And the Chairman of GM is on ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors!

    We are whistling against the wind unless we get our act together on this stuff, people. Again, five of the six most profitable companies in the world are oil and gas companies.

    We are missing something if we don’t think that we need to greatly enhance — and in many ways substantially change — our approaches to prompting positive change.

    Also, in the interest of sharing information so that people can consider all factors, I expect that it’s apparent by now that many, many people are starting to become frustrated with the leadership (in some cases), plans, and tactics of some — and perhaps many — of the present climate and energy organizations. The feeling is: Something about what we are doing is not working, or it is far too little. The reality is that most humans need to see and feel that real progress is being made, by a cause, in order to remain highly motivated. Although I applaud the aims that all of the climate-related organizations have, and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that many people are putting into the matter, something tells me that our effectiveness will need to dramatically increase, and that we’ll need to do a good number of things differently, and better, if we are to be effective. People, increasingly, will not want to contribute their money or their time unless they perceive a real likelihood that the efforts will be effective and lead to real results. Just as the Obama Administration will only get so many swings at the ball, and will only get so much time up at the plate, the same goes for our present collection of climate-related organizations. I say this because the hope and need is for them to work and to be effective. But we need to change some, or perhaps many, of our approaches, if that is to be the case.

    Sorry for the rambling. Bottom line: We need to find ways to be MUCH more effective if we want to have any real hope of bringing about the necessary changes, given that five of the world’s six most profitable companies are oil and gas companies, GM is happily selling cars in China, the Chairman of GM sits on ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors, the U.S. Senate is apparently dysfunctional, the Supreme Court thinks that corporations are people, and President Obama is either getting terrible advice, or he lacks the necessary will, or both. In the face of those sorts of things, we either need to do things differently, and much more effectively, or we may as well all go to the beach and have some fun in the sun.



  3. Geraldine Heinman says:

    Energy Secretary Chu said BP would save the planet.

  4. Jeff Huggins says:


    The New York Times today contains an editorial titled “With a Whimper”.

    I find it simply amazing, astonishing, barely fathomable, incredible, perplexing, disheartening, and frustrating that The New York Times apparently does not see their own role in the matter. They criticize and lecture the government (and everyone else, when they want to) without addressing their own role in the problem, and its an immense one.

    Here are a few things I would propose:

    Someone should do an analysis that compares The New York Times’ coverage of the climate change and energy issues over the past three years with today’s editorial, “With a Whimper”. Of course, historians will do such analyses, but the sooner we do them, the better. Perhaps we can learn some lessons in time to actually apply them!

    And what a “beautiful” analysis that will be, at least in the following sense: The data are all there, on the pages, recorded for history.

    Also, Andy Revkin has indicated that he will try to write an open letter to the news media, conveying his own assessment of the news media’s coverage of the climate and energy issues as well as the sorts of things that he thinks should be improved (if there is anything that he thinks should be improved). I am curious to read what he will say.

    In summary: The present climate legislation died. The New York Times is critical — see “With a Whimper” — but The New York Times apparently does not understand its own immense role in the problem. (It is amazing to read The New York Times charging others with not confronting people who try to derail and delay action: Has The New York Times confronted, and straightforwardly corrected and clarified, the information that ExxonMobil has been conveying to the public in The New York Times itself, often on the front page and also in full two-page spreads, over the last two years?) But Andy will soon provide his assessment (I hope it’s a simple letter grade, so we can avoid ambiguities and whitewashing!) of the news media’s performance on climate change, and will share his views on what the media should do to improve, if anything. So, things are at least getting “interesting”.

    Read the Times’ editorial today. Reflect on their coverage over the last several years. Form your own assessment of whether The Times should reflect on its own (immense) role in the problem, and in yesterday’s outcome.



  5. Robert says:

    The call from US Senators for Scotish officials to travel to the US to explain themselves is causing something of a stir in the British media, with cries of hypocrisy and double standards.

    The BBC ran a piece a couple of days ago describing the number of birth defects and sky high infant mortality rate in Fallujia, a problem widely attributed to munitions deployed by the US during the most recent Iraq war, a war that is generally recognised to have been all about oil from the start by anyone that has dug below the surface. It does seem that the 270 lives lost at Lockerbie (mostly American) were for some reason infinitely more valuable than the 6-figure number of lives lost be the US lead / British supported oil grab in Iraq.

    Now lets talk about BP. This company is not a “foreign oil giant”. It is a multinational oil company with roots in no specific company, but with 79% of its shareholders equally split between the US and Britain. As the US (including no doubt the worthy senators mentioned above) consume 25% of the world’s oil they are individually and collectively as culpable as anyone.

    I don’t fly. I dry washing on the clothes line in the summer and in front of a log burning stove in the winter (powered by the 15 tons or so of logs I cut and stack through the summer months). I have downsized to a 1.2 Polo, work from home and drive less than 2000 miles a year. Its not going to fix climate change but it makes me feel a little less guilty. I might be British but BP is absolutely nothing to do with me.

  6. Michael Tucker says:

    Iran makes its $100 million a day on the middle class of India and China. India and China depend on trade with Iran and a great deal of that trade is in oil. Of course the largest international oil companies want to be involved because it is very profitable. India and China do not just buy Iranian oil; they have also invested a lot of capital to help develop the Iranian oil industry. India and China also depend on Iran to help them with developing trade with Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is going to develop its natural resources India and China will supply the mining know how and Iran has already supplied a seaport. America’s inability to negotiate with Iran will hurt America’s efforts to help develop Afghanistan. Afghanistan will soon realize that India and China, with Iran’s help, are much more useful to them than the US.

  7. Michael Renner says:

    I’m no friend of Big Oil, but I can’t get worked up about this issue. I feel that the Iran sanctions policy is dishonest, ineffectual, and counter-productive. To call these sanctions “U.S. national security interests” plays right into the dead-end policies we’ve pursued in the Middle East for decades. Let’s face it, the aim of policy vis-a-vis Iran is to re-install a more pliable regime that lets Big Oil — and our over-consuming society — have more advantageous access to Iranian oil. Succeeding with the sanctions policy is not going to get us anywhere closer to resolving the climate problem, to the contrary.

  8. Leif says:

    I Second Jeff, #4: Thanks to so many others as well.

    It is obvious that sustainability must be the goal for humanity. It is just that the powers that be are making tons of money in the current game and more important they know the “rules”. You think they want change. They think that their wealth will isolate them from the *hit that will rain down. Big mistake! in my book. The curious thing though is that there will be money to be made in the Awakening Economy as well. It is just that it should be structured in a manor that gives access to ALL with less effort and carbon footprint. (Zero would be good, negative would be better.) Excess wealth discouraged. It can be done, in the long run, must be done, if humanity is to have a chance. We will see.

    So Mister President, are you going to force a 69 year old parent and grand parent to face the great beyond knowing that I bequeath to a 4 Billion year legacy of life, a serious blow to bio-diversity, and perhaps even humanity itself, even though it has been my life’s effort to walk lightly and with reverence upon the Earth.

    I voted for you President Obama because you alone, with your street background, represented the best chance for the workers to be heard. So far, as far as Climatic Disruption is concerned, your right ear seems to be working better than your left.

  9. Mark Shapiro says:

    Whenever you criticize a large company, please remember to name the CEO. Tie his name, and his reputation, directly to the bad behavior. Rex Tillerson decides that Exxon should deal with Iran, and he makes millions harming Americans. This is very important. People can see a person as a bad actor, not a faceless company.

    Names and faces resonate with audiences. The CEO’s name is not as familiar as the company name, but the whole point is to MAKE it familiar and expose him directly to constant, global criticism.

    Think it’s too hard? Does the name Shirley Sherrod ring a bell? Why do you think Breitbart went after her, and not just the NAACP?

    Name, and shame, the person at the top of the offending company. The MSM won’t do this for us. Put a face on the evil.

  10. Sandy says:

    Money is the power that makes policy. The rest is all theatre.

  11. catman306 says:

    Mark Shapiro, I would add a good picture of those CEOs for future reference by the the servers of the elite and for the starving mobs coming to a street near you. The MSM are paid to make sure we don’t associate people and their faces with the actions of big corporations. Not only do they expect limited financial liability for their actions, they expect limited personal responsibility as well. When the general public can associate a name, a face, a corporation, and environmental consequences of a decision by a real person, the whole game changes.. Responsible action by big corporations is the desired outcome. Changing the way the game has been played can lead to that end.

    Think Tony Hayward.

  12. James Newberry says:

    When we identify that transnational fuel (not) corp. owners are a direct threat to national and international security, which the world spends over a trillion dollars for each year, and that they receive hundreds of billions of public treasury cash and tax breaks resulting in numerous perverse damages to the public, then we have a beginning of the true picture of our financial and ecological demise from the continued ascension of fossil/fission corporate fascist states, including the US (especially it’s corrupted millionaires club known as the Senate).

  13. Jeraldine Reinman says:

    Correspondence obtained by The Sunday Times reveals the Obama administration considered compassionate release more palatable than locking up Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in a Libyan prison.
    Also, it shows that the Obama administration lied about being surprised by Megrahi’s release. They knew it was coming, and while they may have been surprised that he went to Libya, the White House knew Scotland was going to spring Megrahi one way or the other.

    It has been confirmed that BP had nothing to do with the release. Journolistas are losing control of this story.