Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin held private discussions with Tony Hayward, the discredited BP chief executive, to win his support for a 1,700-mile gas pipeline across North America a year after his company's failure to maintain another pipeline saw it blamed for the biggest oil spill in the state's history.
The revelation is contained in emails released from Palin's time as governor that were made public following freedom of information requests. Palin's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act was supposed to encourage energy producers to build a multibillion-dollar pipeline to deliver natural gas from Alaska's North Slope fields to the US. But the energy companies refused to back the plan, believing it was a bad deal.
In June 2007, two months after BP executives first poured cold water on Palin's bill before an influential Senate hearing, and a year after BP Alaska spilled more than 5,000 barrels of crude oil due to corroded pipes, the confidential emails show Palin was so desperate to talk to Hayward that she readjusted her schedules to take his call.
They reveal that Palin instructed her office to ensure that Hayward had all her private and official phone numbers so the call could proceed after his office asked for it to be rearranged.
Palin's office was desperate to get the likes of BP and rival Conoco to back the pipeline, the construction of which would have given Alaska's first female governor a national profile. But revelations that Palin sought to curry favour with Hayward could now damage any possible presidential ambitions.
Hayward became one of the most reviled men in the US following BP's offshore oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last April, which killed 11 workers. Forced to resign over the scandal, Hayward came under heavy criticism, not least from President Obama, for his handling of the spill, inflaming critics with a series of gaffes that included telling journalists he "just wanted his life back" and suggesting that the Gulf was a "big ocean" in relation to the amount of oil released.
Another PR blunder was being photographed on a sailing holiday off the Isle of Wight as experts were proclaiming the spill the "worst in US history".
Internal emails show Hayward followed up the phone conversation with Palin with a further email to the governor explaining that the Alaska gas project was "very important to BP". In the email, dated 25 June 2007, he says that he has put a BP executive, Andy Inglis, in charge of the project, explaining he has lived and worked in Alaska in the past. Hayward says "Andy" is looking forward to meeting Palin, as is Doug Stuttles, president of BP Exploration Alaska – "our senior representative in Alaska". Clearly buoyed by the telephone call, Palin fires off an email to a colleague soon after saying "very nice conversation with BP's Hayward (yest)".
At times, Palin's desire to cultivate a close relationship with BP appears to threaten a conflict of interest...