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Former Pioneer CEO and Son Make Significant Political Contributions to Trump, Abbott and Christi Craddick

Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
A pump jack sits quietly in the Permian Basin.

Former Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield and his son Bryan have ramped up political contributions since 2020, according to the non-profit Public Citizen.

ExxonMobil announced its purchase of Pioneer—the top oil producer in Texas—in October 2023. Scott Sheffield is slated to receive a $30 million payout and his Pioneer stock will roll-over to Exxon. But when the deal was finalized this May, the Federal Trade Commission banned Sheffield from joining Exxon’s board.

The FTC alleges that Sheffield attempted to collude with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to reduce oil output in the early days of the pandemic. Sheffield has denied the allegations.

Public Citizen’s report added up all the political contributions made by Scott Sheffield and his wife Kimberley, his son Bryan, and Bryan’s wife Sharoll, and the Political Action Committees operated by Pioneer. They found the Sheffields and Pioneer PACs have contributed more than $6.2 million to political causes since 2010.

Public Citizen’s report paints a picture of a family oil and gas empire that has enjoyed a close relationship with Texas regulators, but is now facing increasing public scrutiny following Pioneer’s sale to ExxonMobil.

Bryan Sheffield has increased his political spending to Republicans since the FTC, lead by Biden-appointee Lina Khan, barred his father from ExxonMobil’s board. Less than three weeks later, Bryan Sheffield donated $413,000, the maximum allowable amount, to the Republican National Committee fund for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Oil barons being able to cash out and sell their companies and devote huge amounts of political contributions is a major problem for our democracy,” said Public Citizen researcher Alan Zibel, author of the report.

Scott Sheffield
Williams Companies
Scott Sheffield

The report raises concerns that the Sheffields’ contributions to Texas oil and gas regulators at the Railroad Commission create a conflict of interest. Since 2010, the Sheffields and Pioneer PACs have contributed nearly $400,000 to Railroad Commission Chairman Christi Craddick.

As a commissioner, Craddick regularly casts votes on matters relating to Pioneer without recusing herself. She is up for re-election this year. The Craddick family also holds interests in Pioneer oil and gas wells in West Texas.

Justin Dudley, a campaign consultant for Craddick, disputed that political contributions could influence her votes on the Commission, which he said are based on “fact and merit alone.”

Craddick’s “record consistently reflects positions that are in the best interest of the state, including votes that run counter to positions held by supporters, such as the Sheffields,” he said.

A consultant for Scott Sheffield declined to comment on the political contributions. ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment.

Long-standing Ties Between Texas Regulators and Pioneer Family

Scott Sheffield started in the oil industry at his father-in-law’s company, Parker & Parsley Energy. The company became Pioneer Natural Resources in a 1997 merger. Pioneer amassed vast holdings in the Permian Basin. By the 2010s, the company, and its outspoken CEO, were well-positioned to be early leaders in the fracking revolution.

Bryan Sheffield followed his father into the oil and gas industry. In 2008, he founded Parsley Energy, an independent oil and gas company focused on the Permian Basin. Sheffield took the company public and then sold it to Pioneer in 2021. Sheffield is now a partner at the Austin-based private equity firm Formentera Partners.

Bryan Sheffield
Formentera Partners
Bryan Sheffield

“Bryan Sheffield is emerging as a significant Republican donor,” Zibel said. “He looks to be escalating his political involvement.”

Bryan Sheffield and his wife contributed $1 million between 2022 and 2023 to the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC. The Sheffields and Pioneer PACs have also donated a combined $310,000 to Texans for Greg Abbott, the PAC for the state’s Republican governor. Abbott is a staunch advocate of the oil and gas industry.

Christi Craddick has received the lion’s share of the Sheffields’ contributions to Railroad Commission candidates. The three elected commissioners hold six-year terms. They vote on matters including contested permit applications and help shape commission rules and policies.

Both the Craddicks and the Sheffields have ties to the Permian Basin. At Pioneer, Scott Sheffield focused on holdings in the Permian Basin. Meanwhile, Tom Craddick, Christi’s father, was raised in Midland and elected state representative in 1969. Tom had dealings with Parker & Parsley (Pioneer’s precursor) as early as 1988. He has now served in state office for 55 years.

The Craddicks are also connected to Pioneer via their formidable portfolio of oil and gas leases. According to a Texas Monthly investigation, Tom Craddick holds stakes in approximately 600 oil and gas leases. He owns many of the leases jointly with Christi. The family earns millions annually from these holdings.

One such lease shows how this could create a conflict of interest. Pioneer drills oil and gas at the Ringo 9 lease outside Midland (the lease was previously operated by Parsley Energy). Christi Craddick holds a stake in the mineral rights of the Ringo 9 lease. While Craddick has been in office, the Railroad Commission has issued permits to Pioneer and Parsley to flare natural gas at Ringo 9.

These flaring permits allow the company to continue drilling for oil while burning off unwanted gas. Pioneer would be forced to limit drilling—and profits—if flaring were not allowed. Craddick has voted to authorize these flaring exemptions without disclosing her stake in the property. During 2022 and 2023, the Railroad Commission granted six flaring exemptions for Ringo 9, according to the flaring permit database.

Texas administrative code states that a Commissioner with “a personal or private interest” in a matter before the Commission shall disclose that fact and may not vote or otherwise participate in the decision.

Railroad Commission spokesperson Patty Ramon referred questions about potential conflicts of interest to the elected commissioner’s staff. Craddick’s political consultant did not respond to specific questions about her stake in the Ringo 9 lease.

“It’s pretty clear that this company is not accustomed to an aggressive anti-trust regulator, or an aggressive environmental regulator,” Public Citizen’s Zibel said, referring to Pioneer. “They seem to come from a West Texas kind of culture where the industry is the only game in town.”

Virginia Palacios, executive director of the non-profit Commission Shift, said that Texas ethics laws allow Railroad Commissioners to accept contributions at any time, even when they are not campaigning.

“That structure lends itself to influencing the commissioners’ decisions on key matters that come before them, even if there is not a direct or explicit quid pro quo agreement between a commissioner and a campaign donor,” Palacios said.

Commission Shift published a three-part report on corporate capture of the Railroad Commission in 2021.

“Policy reforms are needed to prevent real or apparent ethical breaches, improve transparency, and regain public trust,” wrote Palacios and her co-author, Andrew Wheat, in the report.

Sheffield Under Scrutiny

One time Scott Sheffield didn’t get his way with the Railroad Commission was in 2020. The same incident is what got him in hot water with the FTC.

In March 2020, oil prices plummeted as the coronavirus pandemic drove down demand. Pioneer Natural Resources and Parsley Energy made the unusual move of petitioning the Railroad Commission to curtail oil production. Sheffield argued that bringing down production would help stabilize prices and avoid catastrophe for the industry. He said in interviews that if Texas decided to cut production, he hoped OPEC would follow suit.

The Railroad Commission voted down the proposal.

Four years later, the FTC alleged that Sheffield’s actions amounted to collusion to raise crude oil prices and increase industry profits. “Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” the FTC wrote.

The FTC has referred the investigation to the Department of Justice. On June 27, the Senate Budget Committee announced a probe seeking information from an additional 18 oil companies about efforts to collude with OPEC.

Sheffield maintains that the FTC’s allegations “are based on a false narrative, mischaracterization of the facts and evidence, and a baseless interpretation of the applicable law.” He has hired political lobbyists to advocate on his behalf.

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