Trump’s Interior Pick Consulted for Energy Company

  • Ryan Zinke was paid to make connections for struggling firm
  • After Zinke joined QS Energy it got contract for Keystone

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) arrives at Trump Tower, Dec. 12, 2016 in New York City.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Interior Department earned $85,000 from a company that has a stock price of 8 cents and an accumulated deficit of more than $100 million.

Before he was elected to Congress from Montana, Ryan Zinke was a board member and consultant for Save the World Air, according to disclosure forms released by the Office of Government Ethics this month. The company, founded in 1998 and now called QS Energy Inc., is marketing a system that it says will boost the flow of oil in pipelines.

According to a Security and Exchange Commission filing, Zinke, a former Navy Seal, was paid $5,000 a month to arrange introductions and meetings, including with state officials. His efforts appeared to pay off: After he joined the company, TransCanada Corp. agreed to pay the company for letting it test its equipment on the U.S. portion of the Keystone pipeline, resulting in QS Energy’s first revenue from that product, according to another SEC filing.

But, in the end, those tests failed to generate a sale.

"He was a good friend of the company, and I hope he remains a friend of the company," Steve Bonser, a spokesman for QS Energy, said. Bonser said the company has yet to find a customer for its AOT technology, which aims to boost pipeline flow by cutting the viscosity of crude oil. The company did not make any sales of its AOT technology during Zinke’s time there, SEC filings show, and Bonser said the company has yet to find a customer for it.

Hearing Today

The Office of Government Ethics, which has criticized Donald Trump’s plans to shield his private businesses from his government obligations, signed off on Zinke’s plans to divest from various companies, and there’s no public record that it questioned his ties to QS Energy. Zinke dropped his ties to the company after he was elected to Congress.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke’s congressional office, referred questions to the Trump transition team. Trump’s press aides did not respond to questions submitted by e-mail and telephone.

Zinke, who was elected to Congress from Montana in 2014, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday for his confirmation hearing. The 55-year-old congressman has garnered the support of Republicans, and criticisms from many, but not all, Democrats. He was picked by Trump for his twin priorities of boosting energy production on public lands while opposing the turnover of federal lands to states.

Oil Industry Ties

The Interior Department has control over hundreds of millions of acres of federal land and water and the oil and gas drilling that takes place therein.

"Deep ties to the oil pipeline industry are not what we need in a Secretary of Interior at a time when oil companies would drill for every last drop beneath the public’s lands if they could get away with it,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a San Francisco group that supports renewable energy.

Zinke promoted QS Energy while a Montana state senator, saying its technology could help with broader national goals.

"I am confident that STWA’s pipeline technology will be a major player in reaching America’s goal of energy independence," Zinke was quoted as saying in a 2012 press release for the company. The statement said he arranged meetings for the company at a Montana state energy conference.

In 2013 it got the contract with TransCanada. After the testing, however, both companies agreed the tests were flawed, according to company filings.

Before Zinke joined it, Save the World had marketed a $195 auto part that promised to curb pollution.

"There can be no assurances that we will be successful in marketing our products, or that customers will ultimately purchase our products," the company said in its most recent 10-K form, dated March 2016.

(A previous version of this story said QS Energy had no customers. While it has yet to make a sale of its pipeline equipment, it has leased the gear to companies considering purchases.)
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