The National Onion Association — which is “the official organization representing growers, shippers, brokers, and commercial representatives of the U.S. onion industry” — wrote to government officials earlier this year to resolutely support Shell Oil’s bid to drill for oil in the remote wilderness of the Arctic.
The letter does not list any direct benefits for the onion industry. Almost all of the letter consists of language lifted directly from the Consumer Energy Alliance, an “astroturf” group funded by the oil industry, including Shell Oil. Consumer Energy Alliance is managed by HBW Resources, a lobbying firm that represents a drilling trade association that includes Shell Oil as a dues-paying member.
In August, after years of lobbying, Shell received a controversial permit from the Obama administration that allows the company to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic. The permit was approved after a final comment period in April that allowed the public to weigh in on the decision one last time.
Environmentalists and local communities sent in hundreds of letters and signed petitions, arguing that Shell is incapable of controlling a spill in a remote region of the world with limited infrastructure, which is known for stormy seas.
But the docket for public comment also features a few letters of support, including the letter from the National Onion Association, a group that is dedicated to reminding citizens that onions contribute “layers of flavor, color, and texture to a wide variety of dishes and cuisines.” Its website also provides many delicious-sounding recipes prominently featuring onions.
No one picked up the phone at the National Onion Association, nor did Executive Vice President Wayne Mininger, who signed the Arctic drilling letter, respond to a request for comment.
According to an online plagiarism tool, the National Onion Association’s pro-drilling letter is 78 percent identical to language from a Consumer Energy Alliance petition to support drilling in the Arctic. It appears the onion farmer letter only added a few non-substantial lines, such as: “On behalf of U.S. onion producers, shippers and allied industry …”
HBW Resources has helped to manufacture support for drilling initiatives in the past. Metadata from a letter signed by several governors associated with the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Association, which backs increased oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, revealed HBW Resources had produced the documents. HBW and the Consumer Energy Alliance, using money from oil refiners and drilling companies, also helped create “grassroots” efforts to build public support for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The decision to open up the Arctic for drilling is receiving renewed attention this week as President Obama travels to Alaska, becoming the first sitting president to visit the Arctic Circle and witness the impacts of climate change.