The self-appointed evangelist of the Texas fracking boom launched into a jargon-laced monologue, prompting the chairman of the UK parliament’s Welsh affairs committee to request he speak in plain English.
“We’re not technical animals here, most of us,” said David TC Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth. “So you may need to imagine you’re explaining it to somebody who doesn’t have a scientific oil background.”
Chris Faulkner, an intense, balding, bearded figure in a charcoal suit and blue tie, leaned forward and continued. He spent 40 minutes educating MPs about his state’s embrace of hydraulic fracturing, including the marvel of horizontal drilling in urban areas.
“We’ve drilled … underneath downtown Fort Worth, underneath hospitals, schools,” he said.
In the autumn and winter of 2013, the so-called “Frack Master” was one of 16 witnesses who appeared before the committee, which was considering the economic and environmental impact of drilling potentially thousands of shale gas wells.
“Thank you for your answers and general enthusiasm,” Davies told him. In June 2014, the MPs issued a cautiously supportive report that cited Faulkner five times.
But Faulkner was not in fact much of a “technical animal” with a “scientific oil background”. According to the US government, he is a fraudster who ran an investment scam worth between $60m and $80m.
Hosting websites for oil and gas companies was Faulkner’s only experience with the energy sector before 2009, federal authorities claim. In the mid-2000s, he was an internet entrepreneur listed as the president of a website that sold adult movies and a company called Porn Toys Corp.
In June this year, Faulkner was arrested by federal agents as he attempted to board a flight from Los Angeles to London. Charged with securities fraud, mail fraud and illegal monetary transactions, he could face decades behind bars. Deemed a flight risk, he is currently detained in a Texas prison.
“He’s a very smart guy, a very good businessman, a very aggressive businessman,” his lawyer, Larry Friedman, told the Guardian.
Friedman said Faulkner denies any wrongdoing and is being pursued unfairly.
“When people are successful they become targets and he’s obviously become too successful for his own good,” he said. “He had a very high profile on television, he became a celebrity because of his expertise in his subject matter.”
But in ordering earlier this month that Faulkner be held without bond, a judge in Dallas, Sidney Fitzwater, wrote that the circumstances were “remarkably suspect”, adding: “It is reasonable to draw the inference that Faulkner had been making plans to flee to Lebanon.” His mother, Carole Faulkner – who has acted as his attorney – is thought to be there.
‘The committee seeks different views’
At the time he addressed the parliamentary committee, Faulkner had for a year been under civil investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the FBI initiated a criminal inquiry and seized documents and data from the offices of Faulkner’s company, Breitling, in Dallas.
Prosecutors contend that the 41-year-old started and ran oil and gas companies through which he acquired interests in prospective wells in several US states. They say he cited spurious geology reports and vastly inflated potential production and cost estimates: a $2.6m well was pitched as a $25m project. It is claimed he pocketed the difference between amounts raised from investors and the true costs of exploiting the wells.
Faulkner allegedly spent tens of millions of dollars of investors’ funds on extravagant personal expenses, some for escort services – he called one credit card the “whore card”. Court documents claim that in 2014 he spent more than $220,000 on private jets, $70,000 on clothes and $200,000 on nightclubs, including $24,000 at a burlesque club in London’s Soho.
In recent years, Faulkner appears to have spent time in the beachfront Venice district of Los Angeles. An ongoing SEC civil lawsuit from 2017 accuses him of duping investors in a house-flipping scheme in southern California.
Asked how Faulkner came to address MPs, Davies said in an email to the Guardian: “The committee generally seeks to get people who have different views to come forward. We would have heard from environmental groups who were against fracking and so we would have wanted to hear from people who could make the argument in favour of fracking.”
In 2015, the Welsh government issued a moratorium on fracking. But two years earlier the UK government’s excitement over shale gas raised the possibility that fracking sites were about to proliferate in Britain.
It is not surprising that politicians noticed Faulkner, given that he featured as an industry commentator in many media outlets – including the Guardian, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and the BBC, which interviewed him dismissing the environmental concerns of anti-fracking protesters in Sussex.
He also had a radio show, Powering America, and wrote a book, The Fracking Truth. Breitling has made trademark applications for exclusive use of variations on the “Frack Master” name, including for video games, comic books and “positionable toy figures”, the Texas Observer reported in 2015.
In 2014, though, the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that a pro-fracking Breitling advertisement in the Daily Telegraph that was billed as an open letter from Faulkner misled the public.
Sharon Wilson, a Texas environmental activist and blogger who Faulkner sued unsuccessfully for defamation, said: “It’s kind of funny but it’s also really scary that he was presented on all these media outlets and he was so obviously a fraud … he wasn’t a real oil and gas man.”
Wilson said she tried without success to contact some British politicians via Twitter to warn them.
“It was not that hard to look up who he really was,” she said.