House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) used his political clout last year to help two oil groups that were his associates in a pair of Texas gas-drilling operations, Texas newspapers have revealed.
Wright interceded with the U.S. government last year on behalf of Texas Oil and Gas Corp., in connection with a Fort Chaffee, Ark., lease contract; and on behalf of Neptune Oil, partly owned by the Moncrief oil family of Fort Worth, in connection with a Sinai desert venture. For Neptune, he went to the exceptional lengths of personally making a plea to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.
This occurred during a period when Wright was buying into one Texas gas well operated by Texas Oil and Gas Corp. and partly owned by the Moncriefs, and into a second owned partyly by the Moncriefs and operated by Grace Petroleum. Both wells became producers.
These facts, revealed by The Dallas Times-Herald on the basis of public records filed by Wright, have caused a considerable stir in Texas and considerable embarrassment to Wright, who says, however, that his efforts for Texas Oil and Gas Neptune were entirely unrelated to gas investments.
Wright has scoffed at implications that the Moncriefs invited him to invest in the two wells as a payoff for political favors done them or Texas Oil and Gas.
He has said that his efforts for the companies are the same kind of thing he does for any Texas firms that need help.
"I have never consciously used my office for personal gain," Wright said.
Wright aides stress that the assistance he gave the oil companies involved matters unrelated to the two gas wells in which he made investments.
Texas political observers say the issue so far hasn't seemed to help his opponent, Jim Bradshaw, former Fort Worth acting mayor, who is trying to thwart Wright's bid for a 14th term.
One reason may be that Bradshaw recently received a $500 political contribution from the Texas Oil and Gas political action fund.
However, The Dallas Times-Herald and other Texas newspapers have been actively pursuing the story, and observers said there could easily be political fallout later on when the story becomes better known to more people.
Wright was brought into one Texas gas well venture by the Moncrief family in February 1979. Wright put up $35,000 and got a 3.6 percent ownership interest in the well. It reportedly produces just under 1 million cubic feet of natural gas a day.
Later in 1979, according to The Dallas Times-Herald, Wright apparently invested between $5,000 and $15,000 in another Moncrief well, this one operated by Grace Petroleum.
In both cases, he invested only in a piece of the well, not in the oil companies, an aide said.
All this occurred while Wright was involved in contacting government agencies and foreign governments in connection with Texas Oil and Gas problems at Fort Chaffee and Neptune problems in the Sinai.
In the Fort Chaffee controversy, the Interior Department, on the basis of a 1977 application, had granted non-competitive leases to Texas Oil and Gas Corp. for 33,000 acres of potential oil and gas land, located within the military base, at the standard noncompetitive lease fee of $1 an acre.
Arkla Exploration, named for the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, immediately charged that the leases might really be worth $150 to $200 an acre (similar land outside the base was going for that much) and that the Fort Chaffee acreage should have been put up for bids.
Interior Department spokesmen responded that bidding was usually used only where the land sought was in a "known geological structure" (one likely to contain oil or gas), and that the Fort Chaffee acreage wasn't within such a structure, according to government geologists.
sens. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and others from the Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana delegations nevertheless strongly questioned the leases. There were requests that they be canceled.
It was at this point that Wright intervened with Interior. On Sept. 29, 1979, he -- together with Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Tex.) and Rep. Martin Front (D-Tex.) -- wrote a letter on majority leader stationary to Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus.
Although the letter didn't specifically urge Andrus to let Texas Oil and Gas keep the leases, it did say that in view of letters on Arkla's side from others, it wanted to set out some background on the case. This included assurances that Texas Oil and Gas was a drilling company, not a land speculator.
Wright said later that there wasn't any connection between the fact that he owned a share in a well being drilled by Texas Oil and Gas and the Moncriefs and the fact that he wrote the letter on the Fort Chaffee case.
Aides said spokesmen for Texas Oil and Gas had asked Wright's office for a letter counterbalancing pro-Arkla letters from various senators, the letter had been prepared routinely by a Wright aide and routinely signed.
Despite the Wright letter, Andrus canceled the Fort Chaffee leases in November 1979, and the matter is now in litigation. Andrus said the leases were invalid because formal regulations governing noncompetitive leases on military lands hadn't been in effect at the time the leases were issued.
The Neptune Oil matter occurred earlier. Neptune, which had invested in a Sinai oil property when Israel controlled the Sinai, stood to lose $102 million when Egypt, taking over the Sinai from Israel after Camp David, turned the well over to Amoco (Standard of Indiana).
At Neptune's request, Wright early in 1979 tried to get the State Department and Egypt to save Neptune from the loss. He even personally presented a letter to Egyptian President Sadat on March 28, 1979, when Sadat came to the United States.
Neptune eventually lost the well, but oil price increases before then saved its investment.
Texas newspapers quoted the Moncrief family as saying they normally didn't invite people to invest in their properties, but since Wright had become a friend, they gave him a chance. They also said one of the wells was beginning to peter out and he might not end up getting his investment back.