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People always say the Bush administration is in bed with the oil companies, but it turns out to be literally true

Baltimore Sun

Viewpoint: Sex, drugs and natural gas royalties

People always say the Bush administration is in bed with the oil companies, but it turns out to be literally true.

According to the Interior Department, some government officials in charge of collecting oil and gas royalties smoked pot, snorted cocaine and had sex with employees of big energy firms.

Meanwhile, the rest of us were getting screwed at the gas pump.

Three reports delivered last week to Congress portray “a culture of ethical failure” in which employees of the federal Minerals Management Service often accepted gifts from oil and gas interests, steered lucrative contracts to cronies and partied hard with those with whom they did business on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer.

The MMS collects about $10 billion annually in royalties from energy companies that drill offshore and on federally owned lands. Beside the IRS, it’s one of the biggest sources of government revenue.

During the Bush years, the agency has faced harsh criticism for failing to vigorously pursue millions of dollars in outstanding or potential royalties. One controversial program, called royalty-in-kind, allows energy companies to pay the government in gas and oil instead of dollars.

According to the inspector general’s report, the royalty-in-kind office of the MMS was rife with “substance abuse and promiscuity.” Certain fun-loving employees were known as the “MMS Chicks” by energy firm employees, who would generously invite the women to lively social events.

Oil and gas companies named in the reports are Chevron, Hess, Shell Pipeline and Gary-Williams Energy. They paid for MMS workers to attend PGA golf tournaments, professional baseball and football games, ski trips, a Toby Keith concert, paintball-shooting events and “treasure hunts,” whatever that means.

The inspector general found an e-mail from some dork at Shell Pipeline to a woman in the federal royalty office, asking her to join him at a tailgate party before a Houston Texansfootball game: “Have you and the girls meet at my place at 6 a.m. for bubble baths and final prep. Just kidding.”

This stuff would be a whole lot funnier if the country’s energy policy weren’t a disaster and gas weren’t $4 a gallon. The Republicans’ renewed lust to open more offshore leases might not bring down the price of crude, but it would keep the good times rolling at the Interior Department.

Apparently the plan is to tailgate our way to energy independence.

Interestingly, while at least a dozen former and current MMS employees were named in the reports, the Bush Justice Department has chosen to go after only one, Jimmy W. Mayberry.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to a felony conflict-of-interest charge for arranging a juicy consulting contract for himself, as sort of a retirement gift.

The woman who helped Mr. Mayberry hatch this scam was Lucy Q. Denett, then the associate director of minerals revenue management. She’s also married to Paul Denett, who until recently was the top procurement honcho in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Mrs. Denett has retired from the Interior Department for personal reasons and won’t be prosecuted. She told investigators she’d made a “very poor” decision by helping her pal Mr. Mayberry rig the consulting contract. No kidding.

Another Bush hack who likely will escape punishment in the scandal is Gregory W. Smith, former program director of the royalty-in-kind office. The inspector general said that Mr. Smith wrongly used his government position to market a private tech-services firm to gas and oil companies, and that the firm paid him $30,000.

Mr. Smith, now working for a Denver oil company, has refused to publicly discuss the allegations.

The report also accuses him of taking gifts from energy industry representatives, having sex with two of his subordinates and buying cocaine on several occasions from his secretary and her boyfriend.

Who says that being a bureaucrat is dull work?

Such colorful revelations shed some light on the mysterious energy task force assembled by Vice President Dick Cheney at the president’s direction, shortly after he took office.

Mr. Cheney has stubbornly refused to tell American taxpayers what was decided or who participated in these important meetings, though it’s known that many major players were involved, including those geniuses at Enron.

No wonder the vice president is so secretive about what took place. Obviously, these weren’t serious policy meetings; they were toga parties, with Mr. Cheney dressed up as Bluto from Animal House.

In their wildest dreams, the boys from big oil couldn’t have imagined how much fun the next eight years would be – sex, drugs and “treasure hunts.”

Party on, dudes. Drill your brains out.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald.,0,4955825.story

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