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ConocoPhillips and its investors have an army of politicians and lobbyists behind the Willow project.

Image: United Way of Anchorage, under Creative Commons via Flickr

To the shock and dismay of many, the Biden administration last month approved the controversial Willow project, a massive crude oil drilling operation proposed by fossil fuel behemoth ConocoPhillips in Alaska’s Northern Slope. The $8 billion project has been called a “carbon bomb” that could spew around 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It has faced widespread opposition from climate and Indigenous advocates and is being challenged in the courts. The project’s approval flies in the face of Biden’s campaign rhetoric where he said he “completely, totally” opposed Arctic drilling. 

Behind the Willow project rests a power structure of big banks and asset managers, well-connected lobbyists, and a slew of universities and charities that are providing reputational cover to the core profiteers who will benefit from the new crude oil operation. Furthermore, ConocoPhillips has largely captured Alaska’s top politicians, who lobbied hard and directly to the Biden administration to approve the project.

Some of the key findings, discussed below, include:

  • The Alaska political establishment — especially U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski — that played a critical role in lobbying the Biden administration to approve the Willow project is effectively captured by ConocoPhillips, with numerous revolving door connections between company officials and lobbyists and the state’s governor and senators. 
  • Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, an Alaskan whose nomination for his current role was backed by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin, was the Interior Department’s “point person” in approving the Willow Project, and was until June 2021 a partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins, which counts ConocoPhillips among its clients. At the firm, Beadreau represented numerous fossil fuel companies. He is reported to be friendly to oil and gas interests as well as close with Murkoswki.
  • A “Big 4” set of asset managers — Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street and JPMorgan Chase — have a 26.36% stake in ConocoPhillips worth $38.8 billion as of the end of 2022.
  • Nuveen, a subsidiary of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, which has been the focus of a divestment campaign over the past several years, is the 17th top shareholder in ConocoPhillips, with a 1.1% stake worth $1.6 billion as of the end of 2022.
  • ConocoPhillips spent over $9.7 million in 2022 alone in federal lobbying activity.

ConocoPhillips: Owners, Banks, Profits, CEO Pay

According to financial data collection site WhaleWisdom, the top 15 shareholders of ConocoPhillips, listed below, are banks and asset managers that, as of the end of 2022, together have a nearly 50% stake in the company with a market value of $70.4 billion.

At the top of that list of owners are a “Big 4” that together have a 26.36% stake, worth $38.8 billion, in ConocoPhillips: Vanguard (9.02%), BlackRock (7.79%), State Street (4.83%) and JPMorgan Chase (4.71%).

A number of other public- and consumer-facing financial institutions have top-15 stakes in the Willow Project’s owner, including Fidelity Investments (2.28%), Bank of America (1.65%), Morgan Stanley (1.37%), and Bank of New York Mellon (1.18%).

Shareholder% of ConocoPhillips stock ownedMarket Value ($)
Vanguard Group9.0248%$13,269,711,830
State Street Corp4.8328%$7,147,937,541
JPMorgan Chase & Co.4.7097%$6,924,974,000
Wellington Management3.4984%$5,143,920,428
Capital International Investors2.7855%$4,095,086,135
Capital World Investors2.4893%$3,660,136,149
FMR LLC (Fidelity Investments)2.2775%$3,348,727,355
Massachusetts Financial Services Co1.8909%$2,780,305,852
Geode Capital Management1.797%$2,639,982,000
Bank of America1.6481%$2,423,285,742
Price T Rowe Associates1.3849%$2,036,284,000
Morgan Stanley1.336%$1,964,431,534
Bank of New York Mellon1.1823%$1,738,360,207
Invesco Ltd1.1783%$1,732,559,428

Moreover, Nuveen, which is a subsidiary of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), is the 17th top shareholder in ConocoPhillips, with a 1.1% stake worth $1.624 billion. TIAA oversees the retirement funds of hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors, some of whom have backed TIAA Divest, a campaign to get the money manager to rid its portfolio of fossil fuel investments.

In addition to the major investors in ConocoPhillips, a range of big banks also help prop up the company’s fossil fuel operations. According to the dataset compiled by the Banking on Climate Chaos project, at least 17 banks have financed ConocoPhillips between 2016 and 2022, with Bank of America and JPMorgan being the top two, followed by TD Bank, Wells Fargo, and Credit Suisse (recently acquired by UBS). Moreover, a range of banks also perform other financial services for ConocoPhillips, such as underwriting its debt and running its books.

BankTotal financing received, 2016-2022
Bank of America$4,774,896,124
JPMorgan Chase$4,514,646,127
Wells Fargo$2,675,541,127
Credit Suisse$1,865,241,364
SMBC Group$1,413,636,364
Crédit Agricole$375,000,000
Deutsche Bank$375,000,000
Goldman Sachs$280,112,497
Bank of Montreal$228,571,429
Morgan Stanley$228,571,429

These billions in investments and financing help drive enormous company profits and massive CEO pay. ConocoPhillips took in $18.7 billion in profit in 2022, more than double the previous year. CEO Ryan M. Lance raked in over $147.5 million in total compensation from 2017 to 2022, according to company filings.

Conflicts and Revolving Doors Between ConocoPhillips and Government

Alaska’s top political leaders played a major role in lobbying the Biden administration to approve the Willow project. ConocoPhillips has largely captured the Alaska political establishment as illustrated by the extensive web of revolving door ties between the two sides. For example:

  • Kevin Meyer, Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor from 2018 to 2022, worked at ConocoPhillips for 39 years immediately before assuming that office. Prior to becoming Lieutenant Governor, Meyer served as an Alaskan State Senator while simultaneously also earning $100,000 to $200,000 per year from ConocoPhillips as an “investment recovery coordinator.” As Lieutenant Governor, Meyer served alongside Alaska’s current Governor, Mike Dunleavy
  • Ben Stevens, Chief of Staff to current Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy from 2019 to 2021, left that role to become Vice President of External Affairs and Transportation at ConocoPhillips Alaska. Dunleavy congratulated Stevens on the move. Ben Stevens, who had also previously served as president of the Alaska State Senate, died while hiking in October 2022. He was the son of longtime late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens.
  • Caroline Schultz, Government Affairs Director for ConocoPhillips Alaska since March 2022, had immediately priorly served as a budget official in Gov. Dunleavy’s administration. It was reported that her boss at ConocoPhillips, when she began her new role, was the late Ben Stevens, Gov. Dunleavy’s former chief of staff.
  • Patty Sullivan, Gov. Dunleavy’s Deputy Press Secretary from September 2021 to June 2022, served immediately prior as Senior Communications Advisor for ConocoPhillips Alaska. Sullivan now serves as Director Of Communications for the State of Alaska Department of Law, which is intervening against the current lawsuits challenging Biden’s approval of the Willow project.
  • Barbara F. Fullmer, Vice President and General Counsel for ConocoPhillips Alaska, worked earlier in her career in the State of Alaska Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources. 
  • Larry Burton, Chief of Staff to current U.S. Senator from Alaska Dan Sullivan, is a former oil lobbyist, working nearly two decades for BP. 

There were also connections between ConocoPhillip lobbyists who pushed the Biden administration to approve the Willow project and Alaska’s top elected officials:

  • Andrew Lundquist, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for ConocoPhillips, was the chief of staff to former U.S. Senator from Alaska Frank Murkowski, the father of current U.S. Senator from Alaska Lisa Murkowski, who worked hard to persuade Biden to approve the Willow project. Lundquist also served as a senior legislative assistant for late U.S. Senator from Alaska Ted Stevens.
  • Kjersten Drager, currently Interim Vice President of External Affairs for ConocoPhillips Alaska, previously worked for former U.S. Senator from Alaska Frank Murkowski.

As the follow-the-money group noted, Lundquist and Drager had previously worked for a lobbying firm called Bluewater Strategies, whose owner, McKie Campbell, worked as the Staff Director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Senator Lisa Murkowski from 2008 to 2012. ConocoPhillips has paid Bluewater Strategies over $3 million  since 2009, including $60,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022, to lobby the Senate, House, Whitehouse, EPA, and Interior Department on “general oil and gas/AK exploration” in the last quarter of 2022. McKie Campbell has also personally lobbied on these issues for ConocoPhillips.  

ConocoPhillips has hired numerous other revolving door lobbyists, including ex-North Dakota U.S. congress member Earl Pomeroy and Pomeroy’s chief of staff and Democratic consultant Robert G. Siggins; former Maryland U.S. congress member Albert Wynn; two former high-level staffers for former Democratic U.S. Senator from Louisiana, Mary L. Landrieu, Kevin Avery and Jason Matthews; and Kyle Oliver, former Legislative Director and Chief Policy Advisor to U.S. congress member Ralph Hall, the “Dean of the Texas delegation.”

Overall, ConocoPhillips has also spent a veritable fortune on lobbying the federal government, splurging over $9.7 million in 2022 alone in lobbying activity. 

In addition to ConocoPhillips’s close ties to the Alaska political establishment that pressured the Biden administration to approve the Willow project, a key Biden official closely connected to approving Willow has egregious conflicts in relation to the fossil fuel industry. 

Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau was identified by CNN as “the point person on the project” for the Interior Department, which had to approve Willow since its operations will be on federal lands. Beaudreau reportedly signed the approval order for Willow. Beaudreau is from Alaska, and his father “worked on the North Slope after the Trans-Alaska Pipeline came online.” ConocoPhillips is a 29% owner of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

PBS News reports that Beaudreau “has a close relationship with the [Alaska’s] two Republican senators” and is “especially close” Lisa Murkowski, who teamed up with Senator Joe Manchin “to get Beaudreau installed as deputy after they objected to [Interior Secretary Deb] Haaland’s first choice, Elizabeth Klein,” who had taken stances against fossil fuels.

In a article analyzing Murkowski’s success in winning Willow’s approval, Politico emphasized the importance for her of getting Beaudreau appointed as Interior Deputy Secretary:

Most important for Murkowski, Beaudreau also had a reputation for being more friendly to oil and gas interests, had ties to Alaska and enjoyed a longstanding rapport with the state’s senior senator.

Politico went on:

Beaudreau’s nomination for the deputy secretary position, paired with the administration’s posture surrounding Willow in the courts, was a turning point for Murkowski in her dealings with the Biden Interior Department.

“Relationships matter,” she said in the interview Monday. “We worked with one another for a while, had a very respectful relationship, and so when [Beaudreau] came into the Biden administration, it was easy to sit and talk with him because we had had a good foundation previously, and so that, I think, is important.”

Moreover, from January 2017 to June 2021, Beadreau was a Partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins, who counts ConocoPhillips among its clients. According to his financial disclosure, Beadreau represented numerous fossil fuel clients, including coal company Arch Resources, fossil fuel utility Dominion Energy, oil and gas behemoth TotalEnergies (formerly Total), pipeline companies like Epic Midstream, Unocal Pipeline and Crimson Midstream, private equity firms like ArcLight and Carlyle Group that invest big in fossil fuels, and more.

Beadreau’s conflicts were noted during his confirmation hearings and his appointment was criticized by groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

In addition to its revolving door lanes of influence, ConocoPhillips has also been a major donor in federal politics. According to, during the last two election cycles (2022 and 2020) the top two recipients of ConocoPhillips donations have been the Republicans’ Senate Leadership Fund ($2.5 million) and the Congressional Leadership Fund ($1.75 million). In the 2022 cycle, Lisa Murkowski ($41,450) and Joe Manchin ($34,700) were the two biggest individual recipients. 

Greenwashing ConocoPhillips

While ConocoPhillips moves forward with the Willow “carbon bomb” project, numerous conservation groups, universities, nonprofits and cultural institutions maintain deep relationships with the corporation, its executives, and its board members. While these relationships may provide these institutions with funding and access, they also help burnish the images of the individuals, providing a veneer of legitimacy to the expansion of  ConocoPhillips’ oil and gas operations represented by the Willow project. 

For example, ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance sits on the board of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which says its mission is to “to protect and restore our nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats for current and future generations.” Executive Tim Leach, an advisor to Lance, sits on the advisory board of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, which has a mission of “enhancing the conservation and management of Texas wildlife.” ConocoPhillips Executive Vice President Nick Olds sits on the board of Yellowstone Forever, Yellowstone National Park’s official nonprofit, that aims to “protect, preserve, and enhance Yellowstone National Park through education and philanthropy.”

Jody Freeman has been a ConocoPhillips board member since 2012, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in compensation. Freeman is also the Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, the founding director of Harvard’s environmental and energy law program, and co-chair of Harvard’s presidential committee on sustainability. Freeman has also been awarded funding by Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability. Freeman is now the focus of a high-profile campaign among the Havard community to address her ties to the oil giant, and she was at the center of a recent investigation that revealed her lobbying activity on behalf of ConocoPhillips to the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

But Freeman isn’t the only ConocoPhillips profiteer tied to higher education. Executives and directors are also tied to Texas A&M University, the University of Texas system, Northwestern University, the University of Richmond, Columbia University, and Baylor College of Medicine. Moreover, executives and directors also have ties to the Houston Symphony and other conservation groups, as well as the world of professional sports.

All these relationships function to bestow legitimacy and acceptability upon ConocoPhillips at a time when the company is moving forward on a massive oil project that is widely viewed as disastrous for the climate.

While the Willow project has been formally approved, there will remain legal appeals and mass protest against this “carbon bomb.” As this report shows, there is a veritable swamp of Wall Street profiteers, revolving door lobbyists, conflicted elected officials, and greenwashing non-profits and universities that are all enabling the project and the corporate executives behind it at a time of dire climate catastrophe.