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In an open letter this week inviting Russ Girling, CEO of TransCanada Corp., to a live debate on the merits of the Keystone XL pipeline, California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer said he is motivated by uncovering the truth.
It’s a noble pursuit. Yet the facts about the pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast have been in plain sight since its regulatory review in the United States began five years ago.
What’s less known is why Steyer, 56, a President Obama fundraiser and self-described “professional pain in the ass” who is re-inventing himself as a “clean-energy philanthropist,” has suddenly gone sour on the oil sands.
Steyer rose to the top of the list of oil sands foes this year and has been making a name for himself with anti-Keystone XL publicity stunts. His latest hit was a commercial so offensive toward Girling, the oil sands business and Canada that it was pulled off the air last week by WRC-TV, an affiliate of NBC in Washington, D.C.
Undaunted, Steyer’s anti-Keystone XL group NextGen Climate Action pitched it to another station, the New England Sports Network, on which it was due to air this week during the Boston Red Sox games against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.
Steyer’s new doctrine appears to coincide with his retirement in late 2012 from San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management, the hedge fund he founded and at which he was senior managing partner, after accumulating a personal fortune estimated by Forbes at US$1.4-billion, partly from oil and pipeline investments.
Steyer said in a statement July 8 that he “no longer felt comfortable being at a firm that was invested in every single sector of the global economy, including tar sands and oil.”
Indeed, last year, Farallon was betting heavily on the sale of oil sands producer Nexen Inc. to China’s CNOOC Ltd.
According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the fund held US$220-million worth of Nexen stock during the third quarter, when there was uncertainty about whether the deal would be approved by the Canadian government. The sale eventually got the nod in December, resulting in a massive payday for the hedge fund industry.
But that was then. Today, Steyer’s commercial accuses TransCanada of wanting to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to sell oil to the Chinese, which he finds distasteful, rather than promoting U.S. energy security.
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