It's summer and gassing up your car is like emptying
your wallet directly into that fuel pump. So you think you have it bad? You
think you're feeling the pain? Well, stop your whining!
Other oil "addicts" have it so much worse! Have you no pity? Take an obvious
example – the Pentagon. Once upon a time, powering your way to a little oil
war was essentially a freebie. Lately, though, all you have to do is roll that
Humvee off base, send that jet down the nearest runway, or launch that Hellfire
missile-armed Predator drone over Afghanistan – let's not even consider moving
a whole carrier task force into
the Arabian Sea – and, let's face it, you're talking an arm and a leg.
Why, the cost of refined fuel for troop use is officially about
to leap from $127.68 a barrel to $170.94. That's a 34% rise in the last
six months, sucker! Feeling a little less sorry for yourself now? According
to Time, "Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Friday that the
price hike is needed to cover an anticipated $1.2 billion rise in fuel costs
in the next three months." Add that to the nearly $12 billion a month being
spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, come on, it puts your own problems
at the pump in perspective, doesn't it? Even if it is your very own tax dollars
the Pentagon's spending to fuel its wars. So, peace may be hell, but war? It's
Last week, Nick Turse offered
some tips to mainstream reporters who finally – only five years late – made
it to the Bush administration's role in Iraq's oil story. Now, in part two of
his series on what the mainstream media misses when it comes to our oil wars
and the energy story, he turns to Washington and that gas guzzler par excellence,
the Pentagon. The ties that the
Complex – the term Turse gives the old military-industrial complex in his
superb book on how our everyday lives have been militarized – has developed
with an allied petro-industrial complex are so taken for granted that mainstream
reporters seldom think they add up to a story. It's like being on the science
beat and filing stories about how we breathe. As a war-making society, though,
our breathing's been a little labored lately and Turse suggests that perhaps
it's time to take another look at everyday energy activities in the Pentagon.
The Pentagon and the Hunt for Black Gold
The Oil Deal Nobody Wants to Talk About
by Nick Turse
For years, "oil" and "Iraq" couldn't
make it into the same sentence in mainstream coverage of the invasion
and occupation of that country. Recently, that's begun to change, but "oil"
and "the Pentagon" still seldom make the news together.
Last year, for instance, according to Department of Defense (DoD) documents,
the Pentagon paid more than $70 million to Hunt Refining, an oil company whose
corporate affiliate, Hunt Oil, undermined U.S. policy in Iraq. Not that anyone
would know it. While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly
well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon's hunt for oil remains
a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon
guzzles fuel, it's a
chronic blind spot in media energy coverage.
Let's consider the Hunt Oil story in a little more detail, since it offers
a striking example of the larger problem. On July 3, 2008, according to the
New York Times, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
that Hunt Oil had pursued "an oil deal with the regional Kurdistan government
that ran counter to American policy and undercut Iraq's central government."
Despite its officially stated policy of warning companies like Hunt Oil "that
they incur risks in signing contracts until Iraq passes an oil law," the State
Department in some cases actually encouraged a deal between the "Texas oil
company with close ties to President Bush" and Kurdistan that "undercut" Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad.
Asked if the White House was aware of Hunt Oil's negotiations with Kurdistan's
largely autonomous regional government, President Bush's press secretary Dana
"I don't know of anybody who was aware of it."
turns out that wasn't exactly the truth of the matter. The Times noted
that the company's chief executive, "Ray L. Hunt, a close political ally of
President Bush, briefed [the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board,
of which he was a member] on his contacts with Kurdish officials before the
deal was signed." In fact, in a July 2nd letter,
Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
"Documents obtained by the Committee indicate that contrary to the denials of
Administration officials, advisors to the President and officials in the State
and Commerce Departments knew about Hunt Oil's interest in the Kurdish region
months before the contract was executed."
For the Times, however, the hunt for the story ended with Hunt Oil.
No attention was paid to its corporate twin, Hunt
Refining, with its own major financial ties to the Pentagon, the President,
and the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. This despite the fact that the company
proudly promotes itself as "a significant supplier of jet fuel to the U.S.
Department of Defense" in the Southeastern United States.
And why not be proud? Ever since the President's Global War on Terror revved
up and Iraq was invaded, Hunt Refining has quietly reaped major rewards. While
the company was a defense contractor back in the 1990s, according to DoD documents,
Hunt did not receive any funds from the Pentagon in 2000 or 2001. From 2002-2004,
however, the company began garnering contracts and collected an average of
just over $15.5 million a year. And only then did the good times begin to
roll. In the last three years, records show that Hunt has taken in increasingly
larger sums of taxpayer dollars from the Pentagon – $39.6 million in 2005,
$52.2 million in 2006, and, in 2007, a whopping $70 million. (Hunt Refining
did not return telephone or email messages seeking comment for this article.)
Hunt's largest 2007 Pentagon contract was for the delivery
of both aviation turbine fuel and JP-8 jet fuel – the latter a product used
by the Army and Air Force that is very similar to commercial jet fuel. That
deal was awarded just months before Hunt Refining and its affiliate Hunt Southland
Refining agreed, according to Department of Justice documents,
"to pay a $400,000 civil penalty and spend more than $48.5 million for new
and upgraded pollution controls at three refineries" as part of a settlement
to resolve "alleged violations of the Clean Air Act."
In addition to its Pentagon connections, Hunt Refining, too, has tight ties
to President Bush. Ray Hunt's son Hunter Hunt, the senior vice president of
Hunt Oil Company, is, according to his corporate biography, "also involved
in special projects that occur at Hunt Refining Company." The younger Hunt,
however, took a leave of absence from the family businesses, from 1999-2001,
to work for the Bush presidential campaign "as the primary Policy Advisor
responsible for energy issues" and chief architect
of Bush's national energy policy.
While Hunt Oil is finally making headlines
for its Bush administration connections and dealings in occupied Iraq, just
as it should, Hunt Refining's complex ties to the force in charge of occupying
that country aren't considered news at all. Despite the obvious financial
relationship and network of curious ties that extend from the White House
and the Pentagon to Texas, Alabama, and Iraq, this part of the story is just
considered business as usual.
Flush with regularly increasing taxpayer dollars from the DoD, Hunt Refining
is now embarking on an ambitious expansion program to increase its output.
Currently, Hunt's Tuscaloosa, Alabama refinery processes 52,000 barrels of
crude oil per day, according to a recent article
in the trade magazine South Central Construction. The company aims,
however, to increase its production to 65,000 barrels per day, resulting in
"an approximate doubling of gasoline and diesel fuel production." According
to a report in the April issue of Hydrocarbon Processing, the first
of Hunt's new processing units will "come online in late 2009. The revamp
is scheduled for completion in 2010." All of this is, of course, occurring
as the Pentagon needs increasing quantities of fuel to carry on its wars.
In 2008, Hunt Refining has already received a $65.4 million aviation-fuel
deal from the Pentagon that has a "performance completion" deadline of April
30, 2009. If recent contracts are any guide, this is an indication that it
stands to take in record amounts from the U.S. military before year's end.
The DoD is, as national security expert Noah Shachtman notes,
"the world's largest energy consumer." With no end in sight for its current
wars and occupations, which have driven
its fuel consumption sky-high, and ever increasing oil prices (undoubtedly,
in turn, affected at least modestly by the Pentagon's ravenous need for fuel),
ever more taxpayer dollars are going to be funneled to the many oil
companies on its – and so America's – payroll.
This is how the government now works and it should be a story – and Hunt
Refining should be part of it. But don't count on that. It's taken the mainstream
media five years to make it to the oil story in Iraq. How many more before
it notices that everyday oil operations in Washington are worth a look?
With its increasing contracts from the DoD, its soon to be ramped up capacity,
and the toe-hold its corporate partner possesses in Pentagon-occupied Iraq,
Hunt Refining is likely to be a player in Washington and a major beneficiary
of DoD dollars long after George W. Bush has gone back to Texas. But until
the mainstream media begins to tease out the close-knit relationships among
Hunt, other energy corporations, and the Pentagon that enable our military
to function on a daily basis, key aspects not just of major scandals but of
how our world works will remain hidden, even if in plain sight.
Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com.
He has written for the Los
Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Adbusters, the Nation, and
regularly for Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The
Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, an exploration of
the new military-corporate complex in America, was recently published by Metropolitan
Books. His website is Nick Turse.com.
Copyright 2008 Nick Turse