The Texas Observer

Can Texas Oil Money Stop a Blue Gusher?

The Valero refinery in Three Rivers.

Can Texas Oil Money Stop a Blue Gusher?

In June 2017, Tesoro Corp., a major oil refiner based in San Antonio, bought El Paso-based Western Refining for $5.8 billion and rebranded itself as Andeavor, becoming one of the largest petroleum refiners in the country. Andeavor is now one of the top political spenders in the oil and gas industry, giving more than $2.6 million in the 2018 federal election cycle so far — almost all of it to Republican political causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Unless you’ve been living under a shale formation, you know that Donald Trump’s presidency has unleashed a powerful surge of grassroots activism on the left, and the GOP is wary of a blue wave that could wrest away its control of the U.S. House, and maybe even put the Senate in play.

A sign at the 2018 Women’s March.  Gus Bova

In anticipation, the Republican Party is building well-funded levees to protect dozens of vulnerable incumbents in Texas and beyond. The PACs responsible for defending GOP majorities in the U.S. House and Senate are already gushing with money from Lone Star energy giants.

For instance, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by GOP House leadership, has taken in more than $6 million from Texas donors, much of it from the oil and gas industry. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been fattened with more than $9 million from Texans.

It’s no surprise that fossil-fuel titans are spending big on 2018. Trump and congressional Republicans have provided bountiful returns to the industry through steep tax cuts and aggressive deregulation.

This spring, the EPA exempted Andeavor from complying with federal biofuel regulations, saving the company $50 million a year. And the GOP’s tax cuts provided the company with a more than $900 million boost, increasing its fourth-quarter profits 11-fold, according to the San Antonio Business Journal. Earlier this year, an Andeavor subsidiary delivered $1 million to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s super PAC. In spring 2017, Paul L. Foster, the former chairman of Western Refining, who sits on Andeavor’s board of directors, pumped $1 million into the Congressional Leadership Fund.

“Andeavor operates in a highly regulated and often politicized environment,” the company said in an April statement to the Observer. “We believe it is our responsibility as an industry leader to advocate for sound energy policies and actively engage in the political process to ensure we continue to operate in a healthy business environment.”

Eleven months after Tesoro became Andeavor, Marathon Petroleum bought the conglomerate for $23 billion, making it the largest refiner in the country.

In February, San Antonio’s Valero Energy, another mega-refiner, reported a nearly $2 billion windfall from the tax cuts and pumped $2.5 billion into a stock buyback program. In early March, Valero cut a check to the Congressional Leadership Fund for $1.25 million.

The Dallas pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners saw its 2017 profits more than quadruple from tax cuts and Trump’s greenlighting of the company’s controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. CEO Kelcy Warren has given GOP groups and candidates about $500,000 so far in the 2018 cycle.

Republican operatives plan to use this cash to seed competitive districts with attack ads. In April, the Congressional Leadership Fund promised to spend nearly $2.5 million to protect John Culberson’s Houston-area House seat and $2.1 million to help Will Hurd keep his West Texas seat.

The question now is whether the GOP can refine its crude oil money into political black gold.