By Lisa Graves and Caroline Jones
This backgrounder summarizes our research into Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s family ties to Shell Oil Company and the appearance of potential bias by the Justice that those ties reveal.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on January 19, 2021 in BP p.l.c. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a climate case against BP, Shell, and other oil companies sued by a city for damages due to the devastating climate changes that are underway. The American Petroleum Institute and other trade groups have submitted amicus briefs siding with industry.
Justice Coney Barrett’s father’s career as a top lawyer for Shell Oil Company merit her recusal. In fact, based on his role in offshore drilling and senior role at the American Petroleum Institute, this litigation could likely lead to his deposition. He also faces reputational risk.
Here are the main findings of this research:
- Justice Coney Barrett’s father, Michael E. Coney, worked for Shell for 29 years, for most of those nearly three decades as one of its lead attorneys.
- He helped spearhead its massive expansion of deep-water drilling through his legal advice, including as Shell was adapting its drilling rigs to prepare for increased sea-level rise and storms, which are predicted consequences of the significant climate changes that are underway.
- He then worked for almost a decade at a law firm, Carver Darden, which represented Shell as a client. Coney Barrett also worked for oil and gas law firms in New Orleans during law school.
- During her nearly three years as a federal judge on the Seventh Circuit, Barrett recused herself from cases involving Shell Oil Co. out of “an abundance of caution,” and because of the appearance of bias that might cast doubt on the integrity of her judicial decisions. Her circuit court recusal list includes three Shell entities, Shell Oil Refinery, Shell Petroleum, Inc., and Shell Oil Products Company LLC, plus three specific Houston addresses for Shell Oil Company.
- Her recusal list did not name one of the subsidiary companies her father helped lead: Shell Offshore, Inc. It is a division of Shell that is directly implicated by the issues before the U.S. Supreme Court in this case—both in the petition (the federal officer claim) and in terms of how Shell’s offshore deep-water drilling operations dealt with climate opportunity and risk, which Michael Coney spent almost his entire career advancing.
- Because of his direct knowledge of Shell’s offshore operations and company efforts to address climate risk in their offshore extraction efforts at the same time that it minimized climate risk in the company’s public communications, there is a reasonable likelihood Michael Coney will be deposed by the City of Baltimore.
- Notably, a 1988 Shell memo cited in Baltimore’s lawsuit, “The Greenhouse Effect,” detailed potential catastrophic impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, calculated liability risks, and noted that as of 1984 the company was responsible for 4 percent of global emissions. The memo also examined the impact of climate change on Shell’s “offshore installations, coastal facilities and operation,” all areas within Michael Coney’s purview.
- Indeed, according to the industry’s brief in this Supreme Court case: “Petitioners cited several different examples of such [federal] activities. Petitioners noted that they had long produced oil and gas belonging to the federal government on the Outer Continental Shelf pursuant to governmental leases; those leases gave the government control over various aspects of petitioners’ operations, including approval of exploration and production plans, regulation of extraction rates, and a right of first refusal during wartime to purchase all oil, gas, and minerals extracted.”
- According to Coney’s biography, federal leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf was one of his areas of focus and expertise. We note this claim because it is indicia of Coney’s deep involvement in a number of the factually relevant aspects of this case. Even though the industry’s federal officer claim as a basis for federal jurisdiction has been roundly rejected by all federal appellate courts, the allegation reinforces the close nexus between Coney and Baltimore’s case and the need for Justice Barrett to recuse.
- He also was a long-time chair of a major subcommittee of the American Petroleum Institute (the Offshore Operations Committee Legal Subcommittee). API has submitted an amicus brief to the Court, in support of support of Shell’s arguments.
It is regrettable that during the hearings on her nomination, then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett deployed a classic climate change denialist technique when she refused to acknowledge the scientific reality of human-caused climate change and demurred that she is not a scientist. Despite this and other controversies, she was confirmed just days before the 2020 election.
When pressed on the issue of recusal in written questions about her nomination, Coney Barrett refused to commit to recusing herself from future cases involving either API or Shell. She did, however, make this commitment regarding the question of recusal and she did so under oath during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
“I will commit to every of this committee, to the rest of the Senate, and to the American people is that I will consider all factors that are relevant to that question, relevant to that question that requires recusal when there’s an appearance of bias.”
Although that answer was in the context of election cases, it is an acknowledgement that the appearance of bias can require recusal.
Supreme Court Justices have refused to adopt the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, but recusal is certainly warranted when there is an appearance of impropriety based on a judge’s close family ties to one of the litigants in a case, ties which might even result in her father being deposed about his role in offshore drilling and any knowledge of Shell’s internal findings about climate change.
Because her family has deep ties to one of the named defendants, Shell Oil, and to some of the amicus, such as the American Petroleum Industry, we believe recusal is necessary to protect the integrity of the nation’s highest court.
Coney Barrett’s father played a key role in Shell’s offshore drilling operations, including after Shell’s own research showed the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. His work for Shell was focused on helping to maximize the company’s net revenue from drilling. Her legal career and her family’s wealth–every material comfort throughout most of her childhood and young adulthood–were made possible by Shell’s revenues from its drilling operations, which have fueled changes to our climate. His role for Shell could lead to deposition in this case.
Starting in 1977, Coney Barrett’s father began working for Shell Oil and specializing in offshore oil and gas drilling law as well as issues involving royalty payments. During the 1980s, the 1990s, and 2000s, Coney worked inside of the corporation to help expand Shell’s drilling while Shell’s U.S. operation continued to obstruct climate action by funding front groups that were actively sowing doubt about climate change, including both the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). He himself was an “active member” and leader within API, the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying arm. He twice served as the chair of API’s subcommittee on offshore oil and gas production law.
During the 1980s, Shell researched the “Greenhouse Effect,” culminating in an internal report on that subject in 1988. But the company also joined the “Global Climate Coalition” (GCC) in 1989, a corporate lobbying group that publicly challenged the science documenting global warming and obstructed proposals to reduce greenhouse gases. Shell withdrew from the GCC in 1998. The company also designed offshore platforms in anticipation of sea level rise.
Among other roles, Coney represented Shell Oil and Shell Offshore (created in 1981) in multiple suits. These include administrative and judicial cases involving the amount of royalties owed by Shell to the federal government (that is, cases where the U.S. contended that Shell had undervalued oil and gas taken from federal lands and thus underpaid). Shell Offshore pursued deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well as expanded drilling off other coasts of the U.S., including off-shore in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In the late 1980s Coney also became a member of the American Petroleum Institute’s subcommittee of Exploration and Production Law, and the Chair of the Offshore Operations Committee Legal Subcommittee.
In the 1990s, Shell produced more internal reports on the enhanced greenhouse effect and anthropogenic climate change from burning fossil fuels, demonstrating the extent of their knowledge. Meanwhile, Shell was a corporate leader and funder of ALEC, as it attacked climate science as well as international and domestic efforts to mitigate climate change. Shell also lobbied for royalty relief. In 1998, Shell was part of an expanded effort to sow doubt about climate change, along with the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon, and others.
In the mid-2000s, Coney was listed as the “industry representative” to the Royalty Policy Committee created by Bush Administration’s Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS), to discuss the appropriate level of royalties due from corporations for drilling on federal and Indian lands. He played this role for the oil and gas industry from 2004 to 2007. He stepped down from his job at Shell in 2007, at the age of 62, and joined the oil and gas law firm Carver Darden, which lists Shell Oil as a client. (He was listed as “of Counsel” at that firm on its website until mid-2016, but it is not known when he left or under what arrangements regarding revenue.)
In 2008, the Inspector General of the Interior Department released the results of a multi-year investigation of the MMS’s close and inappropriate ties with the industry it was charged with regulating, with that investigation covering a period of years starting in 2002. That investigation documented a culture of “promiscuity, drug use, and bribery found at the Minerals Management Service, whose officials have close relations with important industry members.”
Shell was mentioned 102 times in the main IG report about the cozy relationship between companies like Shell and Interior staff working on royalties, which also noted that one “former Shell employee declined to be interviewed by DOI-OIG agents.”
Coney is not mentioned in the report, and there is no indication one way or the other whether he was that employee or what he may have known about Shell’s efforts to curry favor with Interior’s royalty team, particularly its Denver staff. Coney was also, in this timeframe, a trustee of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, located in Denver, an industry group for which he did training on royalty law.
The multi-decade relationship between the Coney family and the oil and gas industry during Shell’s pivotal years of massive profits from deep-water drilling and its substantial promotion of climate change denial meets the test for Barrett’s recusal from the Baltimore case:
“An appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired.”
Justice Coney Barrett’s own equivocation about the scientific reality of climate change and her prior commitment to recuse from cases involving Shell Oil underscore the necessity of recusal here.
A more detailed chronology is included below.
CHRONOLOGY RE MICHAEL CONEY, SHELL, AND SHELL’S CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL
Michael Coney joins Shell as an attorney, after receiving a Masters in Civil Law from LSU in 1977 and his J.D. from Tulane in 1972. When he first started working for Shell, Amy Coney was 6 years old. That year, Shell developed the Cognac oil and gas field, building the world’s tallest and heaviest drilling and production platform.
Shell Offshore, Inc., was created as “an exploration subsidiary of the Shell Oil Company, which is the Gulf’s largest oil and gas producer.”
In the late 1980s, Shell’s knowledge of its contribution to the climate crisis grew, as did its participation in obstruction and denial efforts. (The science about the impact of burning carbon on the planet’s carbon dioxide level and climate was documented by scientists earlier, including by the auto industry circa the 1970s, as detailed by E&E News in October 2020.)
Coney was frequently involved in the review and drafting comments on both regulations and bills about drilling for oil and gas on America’s Outer Continental Shelf and the valuation of those carbon fuels. Coney represented Shell entities in multiple cases during this time period, including representing Shell Offshore, Inc., in a case about interest due on underpaid royalties in 1987; representing Shell Oil Co. in a lawsuit against FERC in 1988, and representing Shell Offshore, Inc., in appeal from a decision of the Director, Minerals Management Service, affirming assessment of additional royalties due on processed gas from oil and gas leases.
Also that year, Coney was motioned into membership to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court by J. Daniel Pico, a lawyer who was representing Shell in a case brought by a subcontractor who was injured after falling through a hole on a deep-sea oil rig owned by Shell (Jimmy Reed and Cindy Reed v. Shell Offshore, Inc., 872 F.2d 680 (1989)). Coney also became a member of API’s subcommittee of Exploration and Production Law, and the Chairman of the Offshore Operations Committee Legal Subcommittee. Shell funded API as it peddled denial of global warming.
During this time, Shell’s internal knowledge of climate change and the fossil fuel industry’s contribution to the crisis grew. In 1988, Shell prepared a “confidential” internal report on a five year internal study group (1981-1986) called “The Greenhouse Effect” that analyzed the impacts of climate change. The report’s introduction declares “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.” The report noted that fossil fuel burning was driving climate change and quantified that the carbon emissions from Shell’s own products (oil, gas, coal) made up 4 percent of global emissions in 1984.
In spite of their internal awareness of the crisis, in 1989 Shell joined along with NAM, API, BP, Texaco and others to form the Global Climate Coalition, an industry umbrella group designed to confront the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The GCC promoted skepticism about the urgency of climate crisis and doubts about climate science, amplified the minority views of climate change deniers, called “skeptics” at the time and lobbied aggressively against the regulation of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, Shell began constructing offshore platforms in anticipation of rising sea levels, including another world-record setting deep water platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell was also boycotted in South Africa over its alleged complicity in Apartheid due to its business dealings with that government.
Amy Coney graduated from St. Mary’s Dominican High School, a private college prep school, and she began attending Rhodes College.
Shell continued to examine climate change research and the greenhouse, or global warming, effect of burning fossil fuels. Two Shell reports, in 1994 and 1995, discussed climate change and the greenhouse effect at length; the 1994 internal publication “The Enhanced Greenhouse Effect: A review of the Scientific Aspects,” which identified “[t]he threat of climate change [as] the environmental concern with … the greatest significance for the fossil fuel industry.” The report describes in depth, Shell’s leadership role in industry groups monitoring and intervening in the climate policy and science arenas.
Around 1991 Shell also produced a 30-minute video that included predictions of increased and intensive fires, floods, and food shortages. A narrator commented that “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
Notably, in 1995, an internal Shell management briefing on climate change recognized the potentially severe consequences due to “climate change brought about by global warming via man-made increases in gases such as carbon dioxide.” The report stated that anthropogenic CO2 emissions from fossil fuels which could “give rise to an enhanced greenhouse effect resulting in global warming.”
In spite of this research and awareness, Shell continued to ramp up its offshore oil production as well as expanding its support for climate denial groups, like ALEC. In the Gulf of Mexico,
Shell also stepped up gas field production by setting another record for drilling depth below the ocean: the “Auger” tension leg platform was installed in the Gulf at a world water depth record of 2,860 feet. Shell then fought the U.S. government about whether adaptations for that type platform should be counted in a specific kind of deduction allowed as part of taxpayer subsidies of the industry.
Coney was integrally involved in legal support of Shell’s expansion into the deep water Outer Continental Shelf beginning with the Auger project in 1990 and continuing through the 2007 Perdido Regional Development Project. Coney also appeared in a Shell Offshore, Inc., case for refunds of “excessive royalties paid on gas leases.” According to an administrative ruling in MMS-86-0119-OCS, however, Shell Offshore had underpaid royalties owed to the government, in part by low-balling the value of the oil and gas produced.
The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), of which Shell was a member, drafted a climate change science primer in 1995, responding to the IPCC 2nd Assessment, that acknowledged the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming while showing industry how they could emphasize those uncertainties–that is, how they could sow the seeds of doubt as a way to stop regulations. The draft primer, created by Lenny Bernstein of Mobil Corporation, said “[t]he scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” The draft also included rebuttals of climate denial arguments, which were edited out of the final publication.
During this period, Shell Oil was also a corporate leader of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a corporate front group where corporate lobbyists vote as equals on “model” bills to change state laws and urges changes in federal laws.
In 1981, Shell first began funding ALEC, which was created in 1973 in response to the “Powell Memo” urging corporations to fund entities to give them greater influence on public policy. Shell’s leadership role in ALEC was rewarded with an award for being an “Outstanding Private Sector Leader” of ALEC, as the group was promoting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge along with some of the earliest climate change science denial attacks by Dr. Pat Michaels.
ALEC was also funded by other oil majors, but it was in the early 1990s that Shell took on a significant leadership role within ALEC, around the same time that Koch Industries also began major funding of ALEC. In 1990, when Shell won the ALEC private sector leader award it was the only oil company on ALEC’s board.
ALEC’s role is to operationalize the corporate wish list by promoting legislation and resolutions drafted by corporate lobbyists and then providing those bills to state legislators along with talking points in support of that agenda. It reaches thousands of state legislators, some of whom become governors or Members of Congress who begin their careers steeped in misleading claims by ALEC fueled by its corporate funders and who have been rewarded with steady financial support by corporate PACs and lobbyists maxing out on campaign contributions.
Due to the tobacco litigation, numerous mailings to ALEC’s funders in the tobacco industry are publicly available in the tobacco library. These documents show that Shell was a corporate leader of ALEC throughout the 1990s, as ALEC attacked efforts to try to mitigate climate change as well as providing a major tool for API and the oil industry to use legislators to attack climate science, promote climate change denial, and obstruct global, national, and state initiatives to address climate change. As Shell helped underwrite ALEC, ALEC promoted attacks like these:
- 1990, ALEC promoted Pat Michaels’ “The Science and Politics of the Greenhouse Effect,” making recommendations about how to “deal with the political pressure” to do something about climate change.
- 1991, ALEC published a speech by Warren Brooks, which attacked climate science and extolled Michaels for giving ALEC legislators a “fact-filled” presentation on climate, touting him one of the fiercest critic of climate change measures in “The Attack of Killer Watermelons: Flat Earth Science and Zero Risk.” ALEC also attacked proposals by the National Conference of State Legislatures to use tax policy, including a carbon tax, to help address climate change, with ALEC asserting taxes were a greater threat to America than any purported increase in global temperatures. ALEC also participated in a national task force attacking measures to try to mitigate human-caused climate change.
- 1992, ALEC featured GHWB Administration Interior Department Secretary Lujan touting offshore drilling and featured a Chevron executive promoting offshore drilling and drilling in the ANWR (ALEC promoted a resolution to allow drilling in ANWR in 1989, while Shell was funding ALEC: a “Resolution Urging Congress to Enact ANWR, Oil and Gas Legislation,” to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and held a session at its annual meeting promoting drilling in the ANWR and urged states to support offshore drilling around the U.S.) Shell was also listed on a report from ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Task Force that included model bills limiting liability for those responding to oil spills.
- 1993, Shell remained on ALEC’s corporate board as it recognized Charles and David Koch for their funding of right-wing groups; the Shell Oil Foundation also began funding ALEC.
- 1994, Shell was named “Outstanding Private Sector Leader” again, while remaining on ALEC’s Private Sector board of directors and funding its annual meeting at the second highest tier. This year, ALEC actively attacked global efforts to mitigate climate change with ALEC adopting a resolution calling on Congress to hold hearings about withdrawing from the Rio agreement and commitments and attacking climate science: “Resolution on Global Climate Change.” ALEC also peddled promoted other attacks on the treaty to state legislators in “The Relationship between Science, Politics, and Policy: the Global Climate Change Treaty,” featuring Pat Michaels.
- 1995, Shell remained on ALEC’s corporate board as it promoted more attacks on Clinton administration efforts to mitigate climate change, such as promoting Questionable Policy Based on Uncertain Science: Global Warming and the Rio Climate Treaty to ALEC legislators, which claimed the scientific theory used by the Rio Climate Treaty to measure global warming is out of date and also asserting there has been no statistically significant warming since 1978.
In this period, Amy Coney graduated from Rhodes College and began attending Notre Dame Law School on a “full-tuition scholarship.” During law school summers–in 1994, 1995, and 1996–she returned to her home town in New Orleans and worked as a law clerk for three oil and gas firms: Phelps Dunbar (1994 and 1995); Liskow & Lewis (1995 and 1996), located at One Shell Square; and Stone Pigman (1996). During law school, she was also a research assistant for administrative law Professor William Kelley, a former clerk for Judge Silberman and Justice Scalia who had worked in the GHWB administration (Kelley was later embroiled in the scandal over the political firings of several U.S. Attorneys in the GWB administration and resigned during the outcry).
1996 – 2000
In this period, Shell continued to play a role as a corporate leader of ALEC:
- 1996, Shell remained on ALEC’s corporate board.
- 1997, Shell remained on ALEC’s corporate board as ALEC’s legislative chair promoted more climate change denial and attacks.
- 1998, Shell was a Washington Club level funder and ALEC’s programming included a presentation “Myths & Realities of the Global Climate Change Debate: Global Warming, Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol,” which attacked climate change science and mitigation efforts. ALEC also promoted “Global Climate Change: A Real or Perceived Threat,” which spread claims of climate change deniers as legitimate. API designated ALEC as a primary vehicle for advancing another wave of sowing doubt about climate change. ALEC also promotes “State Responses to Kyoto Climate Change Protocol” to try to seed state objections to mitigation efforts. ALEC also promotes an “Interstate Research Commission on Climatic Change Act,” and re-approves that effort in 2013, in the midst of its promotion of climate change denial.
- 1999, Shell was no longer listed on ALEC’s corporate board, although records about ALEC’s major funders–other than board members–are not readily available from 1999-2009. In 1999, Koch Industries became the chair of ALEC’s corporate board. It is not clear, one way or the other if Shell funded ALEC in the next decade, although a renewed investigation of ALEC by the Center for Media and Democracy in 2010 helped document that Shell was funding ALEC in 2009-2015.
- 2000, ALEC pushed back on the IPCC and Rio’s statement of climate change science in the 1990s (when Shell was definitely a corporate leader of ALEC) as cited by Michaels in his Cato-published book attacking climate science: “The Satanic Gases.”
(Shell finally quit ALEC in 2015, effective in 2016, citing differences on climate policy.)
Throughout the mid to late 1990s, Shell also continued to conduct and circulate research on anthropogenic climate change and the role of the fossil fuel industry while still pursuing more aggressive offshore drilling, including deep-water operations–the area of activities to which Mike Coney was most closely tied. In 1998, Shell, by way of its membership in API, was part of designing the multimillion dollar Global Climate Science Communications Plan, which sought to confuse the public about the state of climate change science. The plan was leaked to the New York Times. The Communications team was convened by the American Petroleum Institute, to which Coney was also tied through multiple subcommittees.
In 1996, Mike Coney was still a member of the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) subcommittee of Exploration and Production Law; he was also still serving as Chairman of the Offshore Operations Committee Legal Subcommittee. API is the largest U.S. oil and gas lobbying operation with members including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips.
Lee Raymond, then CEO of Exxon, addressed the members and guests of API’s annual meeting in 1996 (which Mike Coney may have attended, as a member of two subcommittees) and asserted that the scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change was inconclusive, despite the weight of scientific evidence. Also during 1996, API opposed new EPA air quality regulations, promoted drilling for oil in ANWR, defended climate “skepticism,” and continued to push the narrative that claimed environmental protections were from “people who do not like increased mobility and wealth… The global warming threat helps to advance this agenda.”
Meanwhile, another Shell management brief admitted that climate change may be the most grave and potentially catastrophic environmental issue in the world’s history, and reiterated warnings about the harm done by delays in mitigation efforts. Nevertheless, Shell set another new record for deep water drilling with the Mars platform, installed in 2,940 feet of water. Mars was the largest oil and gas “discovery” in the Gulf of Mexico in two decades.
In this time-frame, Shell was also playing a role in the UN climate negotiations as a member of the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (“IPIECA”), a group started in 1974 which serves as the main communication channel between the oil and gas industry and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”).
A 1996 IPIECA report circulated by Shell’s Head of External Relations focused on the procedures and outcomes of the second Conference of the Parties (COP2), which took place in Geneva, Switzerland from July 8-19, 1996.
Despite the internal knowledge of the harm done by delaying action on emissions reduction, the U.S. delegation was firmly opposed to setting specific targets for emissions reductions, at the urging of the Global Climate Coalition, of which Shell was still a member, which reportedly lobbied vigorously against the US committing to any binding targets.
In 1997, a Shell background document stated that:
“Probably the greatest dilemma facing all of us is the possibility that man’s activities are causing changes to our climate through the enhanced greenhouse effect…The burning of fossil fuels, and other human activities such as deforestation, release carbon dioxide, the concentration of which has been rising since the industrial revolution. The average temperature of the earth has risen by about half a degree Celsius over the last century.”
In the same year, an issue primer from the Global Climate Coalition, of which Shell was still a member, cast doubt on the climate models used to predict climate change, and claimed that there had been no warming in the US, asserting, “the observed warming trend is within the range of natural variation.” Meanwhile, the President of the American Petroleum Institute insinuated that climate researchers were exaggerating their research findings to gain financial support or to enhance their own fame. API also came out in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol claiming that “there is no imperative for immediate targets and timetables for large decreases in energy use and emissions.”
Contemporaneously, Shell and API were both behind the Global Climate Change Communications Plan, which argued that the “fossil fuel industry and its allies must make civilians believe there was scientific uncertainty” in order to undermine decisive action on climate change.
That memo stated, in part, that “Victory Will Be Achieved When”—
- Average citizens “understand” (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom”
- Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
- Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom”
- Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy
- Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears to be out of touch with reality.”
During this time, Shell paid $3.8 million in 1997 for another Gulf lease and soon drilled a successful well, but the Interior Department found that Shell had drilled into an older field already producing oil and gas.
Mike Coney, in addition to his active role in API, was also a trustee of the Rocky Mountain Mineral Legal Foundation and authored a report on “Oil and Gas Development on the Outer Continental Shelf.” He is also listed on an appeals of MMS orders from 1999.
Amy Coney, in her mid-twenties, worked as a Summer Associate at Covington and Burling and then clerked for Judge Silberman before clerking for Justice Scalia in 1998. In 1999, when she was an associate at Miller Cassidy in DC, she married Jesse Barrett, who was then a law clerk with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Baltimore. She also changed her name to Amy C. Barrett. It is not clear who her clients were in her first year with Miller Cassidy.
2000 – 2005
Between 2000 and 2002, Royal Dutch Shell spent $16.1 million on lobbying. In 2001, Shell was also fined $21 million for violation of federal royalty leasing, an area of Shell’s operations under Mike Coney’s purview.
Among other things, he represented Shell Offshore, Inc., and Shell Exploration and Production Company in a 2003 case regarding Shell’s practice of flaring. He is also listed as Of Counsel to Shell in a 2001 lawsuit involving Mobil, API, and the US Chamber of Commerce, among other industry organizations.
In 2000, he published a report through the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, an industry-funded group located in Denver, about Oil and Gas Royalty Valuation and Management. He was also a trustee with RMMLF in the 2000s.
In 2004, Mike Coney was appointed as industry representative on DOI Minerals Management Service Royalty Policy Committee on which he served until 2007. He left MMS and his role at Shell the year before MMS became the subject of a public IG report documenting a culture of “promiscuity, drug use, and bribery found at the Minerals Management Service, whose officials have close relations with important industry members.” (See 2008 below.)
Notably, in 2000, API issued a report online titled “Global warming doomsayers are blind to sunspots” which attributed global warming to natural sun activity, and argued that “over time, it may will turn out that it was the anti-fossil fuel ideologues whose heads were buried in the sand.”
Meanwhile, Shell published an article about climate change on its website, which stated clearly that:
“Human activities, especially the use of fossil fuels, may be influencing the climate. The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, oil and natural gas, together with other human activities, such as deforestation, releases greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air […] There is concern that this is making the world warm up, creating potentially damaging changes in climate and local weather patterns.”
Shell’s CEO also spoke about the need to shift away from fossil fuels.
In spite of these findings, Shell Canada and its joint venturers also prepared to obtain more than a billion barrels of oil “from sands in northern Alberta and convert it to transport fuel for sale in North America.”
Additionally, Shell and Texaco were fined $10 million for a gas pipeline rupture which killed three people. This was the largest penalty ever proposed against a natural gas pipeline operator.
From 2000-2005, there are no publicly available records to indicate whether or not Shell was a funder of ALEC, although it was no longer on ALEC’s corporate board. During this period, ALEC attacked the Kyoto Protocol and also focused on states passing laws to mitigate climate change, as noted by Jennifer Lee, “The Warming Is Global but the Legislating, in the U.S., Is All Local,” in the New York Times in 2003. During this period, ALEC also promoted several bills designed to limit judicial acceptance of scientific evidence, which seem to echo some of the denial claims. In 2002, it pushed an “Opposition of Carbon Dioxide Emission Standard,” and in 2003, it adopted a “Resolution Concerning Legislative Approval of Proposals and Regulations for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Global Climate Change.”
In this timeframe, Amy Coney Barrett worked as an Associate with Miller Cassidy, which merged with Baker Botts, a Texas-based law firm that specialized in oil and gas law. She worked on Bush v. Gore litigation over the results of the 2000 election, but it is not clear if she had any oil and gas clients. She left the firm to pursue a career as a law professor, becoming a John M. Olin Fellow at George Washington University School of Law from 2001-2002. In 2002, she became an Associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School. She and her husband purchased a home in South Bend, Indiana in 2002, but it is not clear from the property records available on the internet if they purchased the house for cash, took out a mortgage, or had any help from their parents in making a down payment or buying the home. As a law professor, Coney Barrett also became a member of the Federalist Society.
2006 – 2007
In 2006, Mike Coney played a role in controversy over the extension of oil industry royalty exemptions. A program that allowed oil companies to avoid paying government royalties on oil and gas produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf was intended to support the industry when energy prices were low, but the Bush administration confirmed in early 2006 that it expected the royalties–roughly $7 billion worth, but possibly up to $28 billion–to continue to be waived for the following five years. Coney, speaking on behalf of Shell, stated that “Under the current environment, we don’t need royalty relief.”
Later that year, a court ruled that two deaths on Shell’s Brent Bravo rig could have been prevented if appropriate repairs were undertaken. A safety consultant then found that workers on the rig falsified maintenance records for safety equipment and failed to comply with maintenance efforts going back at least seven years. In 2007, Royal Dutch Shell had the highest mortality rate of any western oil company.
Mike Coney retired from Shell in 2007, at the age of 62.
There are no records showing whether or not Shell funded ALEC during this period, as ALEC attacked the progeny of Kyoto. In 2007, ALEC also adopted a “Resolution in Opposition to EPA’s Regulation of Greenhouse Gases from Mobile Sources,” meaning vehicles. ALEC also continued to push for more offshore drilling, as with this 2006 resolution.
2008 – 2020
As noted above, in 2008, the year after Michael Coney left his role as the industry representative to the Minerals Management Service, the IG of the Interior Department documented a culture of “promiscuity, drug use, and bribery found at the Minerals Management Service, whose officials have close relations with important industry members.”
The inspector general concluded that “officials in the MMS Royalty-in-Kind program “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives” during the period of 2002-2006. Shell was mentioned more than 100 times in that IG investigation. The report noted that one “former Shell employee declined to be interviewed by DOI-OIG agents.”
However, Coney is not mentioned in the report, and there is no indication one way or the other whether he was that employee or what he may have known about Shell’s efforts to curry favor with Interior’s royalty team, particularly its Denver staff.
In 2008, Mike Coney joined the oil and gas law firm Carver, Darden, Koretzky, Tessier, Finn, Blossman & Areaux, LLC (Carver Darden). Shell Offshore is a client of Carver Darden. In 2009, Coney co-chaired the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation’s short course on Federal Offshore Oil & Gas Leasing and Development. It is not clear whether his earnings are based in part on firm revenues from Shell or other parts of the oil and gas industry.
In 2010, records obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy document that Shell was a funder and member of ALEC and its “task force” on the environment and energy policy, as ALEC attacked the Obama administration’s efforts to try to mitigate climate change.
From 2010-2015, Shell was listed as a major funder of ALEC as it attacked efforts by the EPA to regulate carbon. During this period, ALEC promoted an array of climate change denial claims by the Heartland Institute and others, including assertions that either climate change is not happening or human-caused, along with assertions that if climate change is happening it is good for you and may even help you live longer.
ALEC also urged states to withdraw from regional climate change initiatives (RGGIs) and touted the number of states that adopted opposition to RGGIs, in addition to numerous measures to limit incentives for the use of solar energy. ALEC also promoted objections to the EPA’s endangerment finding, and urged Congress “to End the Outer Continental Shelf Moratorium on Oil and Natural Gas Exploration and Production.” It also pushed to expand drilling on federal lands, to lift restrictions on crude oil exports, and more. However, after Google publicly denounced ALEC over its climate change denial in late 2014, Shell announced that it would no longer fund ALEC.
Coney appears to have retired from the law firm in 2016, although other mentions on the internet have stated he is still of Counsel.
Regardless of whether he is still receiving any revenue from that firm, he could be subject to deposition based on his central internal role in Shell’s offshore drilling and net revenue-maximizing efforts for almost three decades, most of which covered the period after Shell knew of the devastating consequences of burning carbon on global climate, including climate in the U.S. and sea-level rise in cities like Baltimore.
Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the 7th Circuit in 2017 and to the Supreme Court in 2020.