When it comes to scandals, the places that first pop into mind would be Congress, Hollywood and Wall Street. But there's been plenty of intrigue and shady dealings to go around this year in the energy business, too, at both companies and oil refineries large and small.
Here are the four biggest scandals of 2013 in the energy sector:
Biofuel Scandal Bankrupts Trading Firm
New York brokerage firm OceanConnect, which accidentally sold $6.7 million worth of fake biofuel credits, filed for bankruptcy in February amid multiple lawsuits from top gasoline refiners seeking reimbursement on the faulty purchase. In their lawsuit, Tesoro Corp. (NYSE:TSO) and Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) claimed that OceanConnect sold them millions of dollars worth of biofuel credits from Clean Green Fuel LLC beginning in 2009. In court papers, OceanConnect stated they ended 2012 with $1.7 million in losses, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the company said it still had $350,000 worth of biofuel credits in its possession.
But the story gets even juicier, as WSJ reported that in 2011 Clean Green Fuel owner Rodney Hailey was indicted for selling fake credits from a phony Maryland factory. In June of the following year, Hailey was convicted for falsely selling $9 million in credits. He’s now awaiting sentencing. Environmental regulators are now worried about fraudulent activities in the market.
Biofuel Companies Cheat Government, Get Caught
The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana indicted six people and three companies in September for a scheme that tried to exploit a government incentives program.
E Biofuels, Caravan Trading Co. and CIMA Green were charged with 88 counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, false tax claims, false statements under the Clean Air Act, obstruction of justice, money laundering and securities fraud. They allegedly defrauded investors and consumers of more than $100 million. Joseph Hogsett, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said the case was the “largest tax and securities fraud scheme in Indiana’s history.” From July 2009 to May 2012, prosecutors charged that the defendants sold more than 35 million gallons of biofuel they claimed to be pure biodiesel (B100) when they were actually selling a blended version of a lower value (B99). B100 is worth approximately $2 more per gallon than B99.
Refiners Take On The EPA
Throughout 2013 the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Environmental Protection Agency have been butting heads over the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), which effectively require refiners to blend ethanol into gasoline. On Dec. 9, API filed its first major brief in court against the EPA’s delay in finalizing requirements for refiners on how much ethanol they have to blend with gasoline. The EPA was required to issue the 2013 fuel standards by Nov. 30, 2012, but didn’t until Aug. 15, 2013. The delay left refiners scrambling to meet new RFS obligations.
“EPA’s unrealistic ethanol mandates for 2013 are simply bad public policy,” said Harry Ng, API vice president and general counsel. “EPA issued this year’s requirements nine months late and has once again mandated significantly more cellulosic ethanol than is available in the marketplace.”
While Obama Was Sleeping
When President Barack Obama announced his ambitious second-term agenda in February’s State of the Union address, he named energy and climate change among his priorities. Yet under his administration, LG Chem Michigan Inc., formerly known as Compact Power Inc., misused federal money. The company was awarded about $150 million to build a $304 million battery cell manufacturing plant in Holland, Mich. The project was intended to design, construct, start up and test a production facility for lithium-ion polymer batteries. Some 440 jobs were supposed to be made and so too were enough battery cells to annually equip 60,000 electric vehicles by the end of this year. An inspector general report this year found that the work was only 60 percent complete, as employees were playing video games and watching movies -- while the taxpayers foot the bill.