Political Appointees at the Department of Interior have given special treatment to ex-clients of their boss, David Bernhardt, the oil lobbyist turned Secretary of the Interior.
Top Interior political appointee Katherine Macgregor, soon to be confirmed as Deputy Secretary, helped a former client of Secretary David Bernhardt secure oil and gas drilling permits from the Bureau of Land Management, though the company seeking the permits filed “deficient” applications. MacGregor was later feted with invitations to VIP events by the former client.
These details are revealed in materials obtained by Documented under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and published below.
Interior Secretary Bernhardt worked for The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), an oil industry lobbying group, for many years preceding his nomination to the Trump Administration.
On Wednesday, March 29th, 2017, Samantha Macdonald, Director of Government Relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), emailed Kathy Benedetto and Kate MacGregor, top political appointees at the Department of the Interior.
“We have a company experiencing some difficulty with BLM in Oklahoma and I was hoping you may be able to help,” read the note.
The company, Cimarex Energy, is a Colorado based fracking company. Cimarex claimed that it urgently needed the BLM to approve its drilling permits. The company’s Director of Governmental and External Affairs, Jayme Cox, claimed “We are about to lose a lease if we can’t get it [a drilling permit] by the end of April.”
Cimarex’s lobbyists at IPAA went directly to Kate MacGregor and Kathy Benedetto with Cimarex’s request. MacGregor, currently the acting Deputy Secretary, was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Mineral Management at the time. In this position she helped oversee the BLM, the agency in charge of issuing the permits Cimarex sought. Within days of being contacted by the oil lobbyist, MacGregor had the acting BLM director, Mike Nedd, on the case for Cimarex. By April 4, Nedd had directed his staff to take care of things: “Amy and her team are on top of this issue,” he reported back to MacGregor.
By April 13th, Nedd had the problem well in hand, telling MacGregor: “we anticipate issuing the APD tomorrow… the OK office has been having regular communication with the Cimarex regulatory compliance shop.”
The APD for the Hines Well was issued April 14th. Drilling started, and the well was spudded within a month.
In communications with the DOI, Cimarex claimed they were in danger of losing the lease due to understaffing at BLM offices.
However, BLM records tell a different story. Cimarex leased the land from the Hines family. According to the agreement, if Cimarex did not start drilling by April 30th, the lease would be canceled.
This agreement was outside of the BLM’s control. In fact, the BLM had granted Cimarex a more or less permanent authorization to lease the land. The problem was that Cimarex had skimped on necessary environmental review, failing to satisfy the National Environmental Protection Act, a key requirement for drilling an oil well. While the industry constantly criticizes BLM for being too slow in granting permits, an internal BLM review found improper environmental review and lack of paperwork by drilling companies to be a leading cause of drilling delays.
In spite of the misleading justification for the special treatment of the Cimarex APDs, MacGregor and IPAA maintained a close relationship.
IPAA, through MacGregor, had shown that their deep ties to DOI officials could make big differences for members like Cimarex. And IPAA certainly recognized MacGregor’s influence and utility. On April 24th, IPAA invited MacGregor to a “closed door, off the record” meeting of the oil industry’s “Government Affairs Strategy Group” (GASG). “We try to get our members who are in town together once a month to hear from a person of influence” IPAA told MacGregor.
According to a list of GASG members, forwarded to MacGregor by IPAA, the group is an impressive slice of the top oil and gas lobbyists in DC. From the offshore oil industry, to Exxon, to Cimarex, to boutique PR firms, the list is extensive. It even includes Secretary Bernhardt’s old lobbying firm, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck.
Though MacGregor’s calendar does not reflect a meeting with GASG, she was eager to participate in the event: “Can you shoot this through the public speaking process?” she asked the DOI PR department.
It’s unclear if MacGregor participated in the VIP event for IPAA, and if she crossed paths with any Cimarex lobbyists while there. But on Thursday, May 11th, a month and a half after IPAA first contacted her, and a week before she would speak at the IPAA meeting, MacGregor made sure Cimarex was a happy customer. “Has this issue been resolved?” she asked Cimarex lobbyist Jayme Cox.
March 29, 2017
IPAA contacts Macgregor and Benedetto
April 3, 2017
Macgregor forwards Cimarex’s request to BLM director Mike Nedd, “I did not hear about this and will check on it…” he wrote.
April 4, 2017
Nedd updates Macgregor “Amy and her team are on top of this issue.”
April 13, 2017
Email from Nedd to Macgregor “we anticipate issuing the APD tomorrow… the OK office has been having regular communication with the Cimarex regulatory compliance shop.”
April 24, 2017
“I’m reaching out to see if you would be interested in speaking to our Government Affairs Strategy Group (GASG) for our next meeting in May. We try to get our members who are in town together once a month to hear from a person of influence. Past speakers have included Neil Chatterjee, Matt Kellogg, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Sen. Gardner etc. It is a closed-door, off-the-record conversation where the speaker usually gives 15 mins of brief remarks of whatever is pertinent to what they are working on and then we open it up for questions and discussion.”
May 11, 2017
MacGregor to Jayme Cox “has this issue been resolved”
April 4, 2017
Nedd and Lueders correspond about the Cimarex issue,
June 1, 2017
Cimarex and Industry Partners meet with Amy Lueders in NM https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6006905-BLM-Cimarex-Docs-5-16-19.html#document/p4/a501549
May 23, 2018
Bernhardt and Cimarex met (daily cards)
September 5, 2018
MacGregor and Cimarex
After Action Review Summary by Robert Pawelek
Communications between Katherine MacGregor and IPAA
Obtained through a FOIA suit field by Public Citizen on behalf of Documented.
Hines Well Case Recordation
A list of all filings and dates related to the Hines Well.
Hines Well File
All documents held by the Oklahoma BLM Field Office pertaining to the Hines Well.
Hines Well Lease File
All documents held by the Oklahoma BLM Field Office pertaining to the Hines Well Lease.
BLM communications regarding the Hines Well
Obtained through FOIA.
BIA communications regarding the Hines Well
Obtained through FOIA.
Katherine MacGregor’s Calendar
Obtained through FOIA.
Amy Lueders and Mike Nedd communications regarding Hines Well