Governor pressed oil boss for investment – a year after his company was responsible for the largest spill in Alaska's history
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin held private discussions with Tony Hayward, the discredited BP chief executive, to win his support for a 1,700-mile gas pipeline across North America a year after his company's failure to maintain another pipeline saw it blamed for the biggest oil spill in the state's history.
The revelation is contained in emails released from Palin's time as governor that were made public following freedom of information requests. Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act was supposed to encourage energy producers to build a multibillion-dollar pipeline to deliver natural gas from Alaska's North Slope fields to the US. But the energy companies refused to back the plan, believing it was a bad deal.
In June 2007, two months after BP executives first poured cold water on Palin's bill before an influential Senate hearing, and a year after BP Alaska spilled more than 5,000 barrels of crude oil due to corroded pipes, the confidential emails show Palin was so desperate to talk to Hayward that she readjusted her schedules to take his call.
They reveal that Palin instructed her office to ensure that Hayward had all her private and official phone numbers so the call could proceed after his office asked for it to be rearranged.
Palin's office was desperate to get the likes of BP and rival Conoco to back the pipeline, the construction of which would have given Alaska's first female governor a national profile. But revelations that Palin sought to curry favour with Hayward could now damage any possible presidential ambitions.
Hayward became one of the most reviled men in the US following BP's offshore oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last April, which killed 11 workers. Forced to resign over the scandal, Hayward came under heavy criticism, not least from President Obama, for his handling of the spill, inflaming critics with a series of gaffes that included telling journalists he 'just wanted his life back' and suggesting that the Gulf was a 'big ocean' in relation to the amount of oil released.
Another PR blunder was being photographed on a sailing holiday off the Isle of Wight as experts were proclaiming the spill the 'worst in US history'.
Internal emails show Hayward followed up the phone conversation with Palin with a further email to the governor explaining that the Alaska gas project was 'very important to BP'. In the email, dated 25 June 2007, he says that he has put a BP executive, Andy Inglis, in charge of the project, explaining he has lived and worked in Alaska in the past. Hayward says 'Andy' is looking forward to meeting Palin, as is Doug Stuttles, president of BP Exploration Alaska – 'our senior representative in Alaska'. Clearly buoyed by the telephone call, Palin fires off an email to a colleague soon after saying 'very nice conversation with BP's Hayward (yest)'.
At times, Palin's desire to cultivate a close relationship with BP appears to threaten a conflict of interest.
When she is asked by her office to respond to an email from Rhonda Boyles (a local Republican politician) about who should sit on BP's Benevolent Giving Board, she fires back: 'My sister. If not her, then a missionary friend of mine – I'll get her name.'
The position of Palin's husband, Todd, who worked for BP until 2009, was also a concern for the governor. In a jokey email sent to a colleague in September 2007 Palin asks: 'If we, er, when we get a divorce, does that quell 'conflict of interest accusations about BP?' '
The emails suggest Palin's office was obsessed with BP's oil and gas production, from which the state of Alaska earns hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.
On 9 May 2008, BP's Prudhoe Bay field was shut down. Emails show Palin's office was informed this 'will have a 1 to 3 day impact' on output. But BP's US tax manager, Bernard Hajnay, was quick to inform Palin's office that the shutdown did not affect other BP operations and they would be 'ramping up production over the 1-3 days'.
'I think we're all in agreement that the state not launch a press release until after the company does,' an email circulated among Palin's office staff states, adding: 'Our production forecast anticipated some shut-downs and was ahead before this event. As long as the event does not exceed three days, our FY2008 production forecast is still good.'
Palin is also warned in March 2008 that an expert 'has emailed me … regarding his claim that BP is restricting the production of oil, causing the State to lose funds. He claims that BP is shorting production 100,000 to 150,000 b/d [barrels per day].'
Last month BP was fined $25m and ordered to spend some $60m on improving pipeline safety in Alaska after a 2006 oil spill on the state's North Slope coastal region. Investigators blamed the leak on a failure to properly inspect and maintain the pipeline to prevent corrosion.
Safety concerns concerning BP's activities were never far away when Palin was governor, even if her office was one of the last places to hear of them.
In September 2007, Palin was informed that more than 100 staff contracted to BP and 'tasked with corrosion prevention work' were being laid off, prompting consternation in her office. Palin asked her source how he heard the news. 'It was third-hand,' Palin is told. 'A former staffer with a buddy on the [North] Slope told me. His contact is somebody at BP that's up there … and the BP person learned of it this afternoon.'
An email from a Palin aide to the governor refers to a letter from Chuck Hamel, an oil industry expert, who complains to the governor that an official investigation into a fire involving BP on 6 August 2007 'only supported BP's position and did not adequately review the severity of BP's failed preventative maintenance'.
The aide proposes to Palin that her office confirm 'it is looking into the issue.'
As media outlets pored over the 24,000 emails released, conservatives bombarded newspapers and rightwing websites with complaints that Palin had been singled out for special treatment.
Greta van Susteren, a Fox News journalist and one of the few members of the media trusted by Palin, labelled her treatment 'a media colonoscopy' and suggested some news organisations were on 'a mission to destroy'.