Elizabeth Warren’s Gas Royalties – WSJ
On her first day as President,
says she will “ban fracking—everywhere,” while putting a “total moratorium” on leases offshore and on federal lands. Ms. Warren has signed a pledge to refuse campaign contributions over $200 from the oil-and-gas industry. She’s a past sponsor of a Senate bill called the Keep It in the Ground Act.
So it’s worth noting that, for years, she and her husband reported modest income from natural-gas royalties in her native state of Oklahoma. Ms. Warren’s financial disclosure filed with the Senate in 2012 included $504 of income from “gas well royalty interests” in Latimer County. The next year it was $203. Drill a little deeper and the facts get even more interesting.
Ms. Warren’s campaign has posted 11 years of her tax returns, which show gas income from at least 2008. That year she filed jointly with her husband,
who had $872 in royalties from gas wells in Oklahoma. There are smaller amounts—a few hundred dollars—reported over the next several tax returns, before the yearly earnings stop.
Property records offer further information, although the picture is hardly complete. A 2011 deed says Mr. Mann had sold his interest in “all of the oil, gas, and other minerals” under assorted pieces of land in Latimer County and Pittsburg County. The stated price was $5,000. The buyer?
the Senator’s son. The deed is dated Aug. 19. It says the transfer of royalty was effective Sept. 1. Two weeks later, Sept. 14, Ms. Warren announced her Senate candidacy in Massachusetts.
There are more transfers in 2014, as Ms. Warren’s political profile was rising. “We are on the cusp of a climate crisis,” she told the Senate that March, “a point of no return that will threaten our health, our economy and our planet.” Two months later, deeds dated May 19 say Ms. Warren conveyed to her two children, Alexander and
her mineral rights for lands in Okfuskee County and Hughes County, amid the Woodford shale field in the state’s southeast.
One of those Hughes County parcels appears on oil-and-gas leases from June and July 2017, signed by Alexander and Amelia, along with Ms. Warren’s three brothers. The agreements allow exploration and drilling on an 80-acre plot in exchange for royalties on any potential output. The leases had an initial term of three years, so they would appear to remain in effect through this summer.
“Elizabeth and Bruce sold or transferred these mineral interests to her children several years ago,” a Warren campaign spokesman said. “Her children still own them. They generated a few hundred dollars a year.” How long did Ms. Warren and Mr. Mann receive these royalties? Were the amounts larger in the past? The campaign declined to say. For context, gas wells become less productive over time.
The wells on some of these Latimer County lands date at least to the 1990s, when their output was much higher. For example, Mr. Mann’s 2011 mineral deed lists a parcel where state records show a well named Norman. Its production in 2009, per data from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, was about 150,000 mcf (thousand cubic feet). In 1995 it was 3.9 million mcf. Did Mr. Mann have a stake in that gusher?
If you ask us, there’s nothing wrong here: Many people hold mineral rights, and ownership can get fractured by inheritance. Fossil fuels make the world go round, powering everything from cars to MRI machines. As for the climate, natural gas and fracking are the main reason that America’s carbon emissions have dropped in recent years. Ms. Warren is a multimillionaire, so it isn’t as if a gas royalty would get her humming “We’re in the Money.”
What makes this curious is that it belies the purism of her presidential rhetoric. She speaks as if oil inevitably stains everything it touches. “We want to make real progress on climate?” Ms. Warren said at a November debate. “Then we have to start by attacking the corruption that gives the oil industry and other fossil-fuel industries a stranglehold over this country.” A month later she added: “The biggest climate problem we face is the politicians in Washington who keep saying the right thing but continue to take money from the oil industry.”
But back when she was a Harvard law professor, Ms. Warren and her husband cashed those gas checks—or at least they did until the month before she launched her Senate campaign. Once she entered public life, they apparently unloaded the inconvenient assets by transferring them to children, who then endorsed an oil-and-gas lease that would be politically toxic if it carried Ms. Warren’s signature.
In her Manichaean rhetoric, Ms. Warren portrays a world divided between good guys, who fight for the Earth, and bad guys who are in the tank for oil. These Oklahoma gas wells illustrate that life is so much more complicated than she wants Democratic voters to believe.
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