Possible conflict of interest: Trump owns shares in Dakota Access pipeline parent company

Protesters march along a road during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S. November 18, 2016. © Stephanie Keith
President-elect Donald Trump’s investments in two companies behind the Dakota Access pipeline, although small, are raising concerns about whether Trump’s stake in the project could affect decisions he makes about the pipeline as president.

President-elect Donald Trump’s investments in two companies behind the Dakota Access pipeline, although small, are raising concerns about whether Trump’s stake in the project could affect decisions he makes about the pipeline as president.

According to Trump’s 2016 federal disclosure forms, the billionaire businessman owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock from Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. A year earlier, his share was between $500,000 and $1 million.

The president-elect sold off his shares in Energy Transfer Partners, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. If true, it is unclear why investments in the company are still listed in the disclosure.

However, Trump’s financial disclosures also show he has between $500,000 and $1 million invested in Phillips 66, another energy company headquartered in Texas with a 25 percent ownership share of the Dakota Access.

While Trump’s share in the $3.8 billion Dakota Access project is minuscule (about 0.02 percent), the president-elect’s close ties to the pipeline’s parent company and other beneficiaries of the project don’t stop there.

The Trump campaign also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Energy Transfer Partners Chief Executive Officer Kelcy Warren. In June, Warren donated $3,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign – over the $2,700 limit for individual campaign contributions to a candidate. Warren also gave $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party.

Trump is also reportedly considering Harold Hamm, founder of oil and gas company Continental Resources, for a position in his Cabinet as secretary of energy. Hamm has told investors in the past that he would use the Dakota Access pipeline to ship his company’s oil. Trump is also reportedly considering former Texas Governor Rick Perry for the energy secretary post as well, and Perry sits on the corporate board for Energy Transfer Partner.

Since Trump’s election, the possibility of conflicts of interests for the president-elect has been heavily scrutinized. The real estate mogul’s business empire has interests in India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey among other countries. The former reality-television star also owes debt to the Bank of China, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. In the past, Trump has said he would have his children take over his assets after putting them in a “blind trust.” In theory, a blind trust involves an independent executor selling Trump’s assets and replacing them with different ones that the president-elect would have no knowledge of, but he has yet to take that step. Instead, he ceded control of much of his assets to three of his adult children.

Protests against the Dakota Access project turned increasingly violent in recent days, with law enforcement in North Dakota using water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, teargas, rubber bullets, LRAD sound cannons and even concussion grenades according to reports, leaving hundreds injured – some severely.

The pipeline’s construction is currently on hold while the Army Corps of Engineers performs more studies on the project and consults with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which believes the pipeline threatens the drinking water in the area and sacred Native American cultural sites. The delay in construction means that a final decision on whether the project moves forward on its current path will likely be up to Trump once he’s in the Oval Office.

President Barack Obama has deferred on making a final decision on the project, instead suggesting to let the situation in North Dakota, "play out for several more weeks” while the Army Corps studies the situation.