WRAL Investigates

Critics: Sanford businessman doesn't belong on fracking board

Posted July 25, 2012
Updated July 27, 2012

— A state government watchdog and a Lee County resident are calling for an appointee to a new board that oversees natural gas exploration in North Carolina to be replaced.

House Speaker Thom Tillis recently named Ray Covington as one of his four appointments to the 15-member Energy and Mining Commission. Covington is co-founder of North Carolina Oil and Gas, which manages mineral rights leases for landowners in return for a share of future profits.

"The first rule of ethics and being part of government is that you shouldn't be in a position to benefit personally financially from what you do," said Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

Covington was appointed to a seat meant for conservationists. Although he has done some conservation work, Pinsky said he has a glaring conflict of interest in serving on the energy commission.

"He may be one of the most honorable people in the world. He may have an open mind," she said, "but as always, it's the appearance to citizens that there is somebody being taken care of."

Covington declined to comment, but he previously told WRAL News that he doesn't see any conflict.

"Help me out a little bit. Where do you see the conflict of interest?" he said. "I'm a landowner. Are you saying that we should exclude all landowners (from the commission)?"

In fact, Covington manages a family real estate partnership that owns 54 parcels of Lee County land totaling more than 1,000 acres. Lee County is in the heart of the area that proponents say is ripe for gas drilling, meaning that the Covington family could earn money off mineral rights leases if the commission starts issuing drilling permits.

Fracking Conflict of interest alleged against drilling commission member

"Flat out, I don't think he has a place on the board," Lee County resident Laura Johnson said.

Johnson said she had never met Covington until he wandered past large "No Trespassing" signs and up the half-mile-long driveway on her 40-acre spread last spring.

"He pretended he was lost, and he said, 'Hey, you know, I have land around here. I've always wondered what was back here,'" she said. "Through the course of the conversation, he got to the point, which was he wanted to lease our property through his company."

Johnson called him out about the encounter at a public hearing on drilling that the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources held in Chapel Hill in March.

"He first tried to deny it, and so I just kept saying, 'No, it was you. You were there. I have your card. I know it was you,'" she said.

Covington said in an email to WRAL News that he didn't realize he was on private property when he met Johnson and called the incident a "misunderstanding." He said he was just trying to warn Johnson about unscrupulous agents who might offer her a mineral rights contract that gave her "essentially no protections."

"Truthfully, I just felt like it was really dishonest," Johnson said. "I felt like it was a pretty dishonest way to go about it."

Tillis said he appointed Covington on the recommendation of Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee.

Stone couldn't be reached for comment, but his campaign finance reports show he received $1,000 from the Covington family in the last couple of years.

"It's crony capitalism," Pinsky said. "You know, we're taking care of our buddies."

"The fact is, he's going to make a direct profit from this activity," Johnson said. "If he owns a company that's going to be making money on it, then in my opinion, he has no business being on a board that's supposed to regulate it."

Read more WRAL Investigates stories or contact the WRAL Investigates team.


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  • pdbullard Jul 27, 2012

    He's not looking out for land owners. Didn't you read the article?

    "Covington manages a family real estate partnership that owns 54 parcels of Lee County land totaling more than 1,000 acres. "

    He's looking out for himself and his family. They own the 1,000 acres. He's not trying to help anyone else.

    Yes I read the article, but I also investigated his organization,(they have a website) and read other articles about him and his organization. His operation looks to me like one looking out for land owners by organizing their efforts to make sure drillers pay everyone fairly and do a clean job.

  • Luvthesky Jul 27, 2012

    no tantrums - he just wrote a check instead.

  • highwindfanatic Jul 26, 2012

    Our understanding is that Dr. Covington has an outstanding record of HANDS ON conservation and community work throughout his career. He's not fanatical... He doesn't carry picket signs and throw temper tandrums in front of news cameras. He doesn't degrade anyone. He simply works hard to get things done. WRAL knows this, yet chooses not to report it. Why?

    According to the public records, the properties he manages for his family include much residential and business listings... Useless for drilling... And worthless if hydrolic fracturing destroys their value in Lee County. That's (very) pertinent information WRAL knows, but chose to leave out. Why?

  • Just Plain Common Sense Jul 26, 2012

    Huh? Since when does being an expert impede your ability to serve properly? If I took this argument to the extreme, then no expert could serve on anything they had knowledge of? Id rather people serve who knows what they are doing.

  • Wacky_dood Jul 26, 2012

    If the story is true, this guy sounds kinda skeevy.

    If he trespassed on my property, he would not have walked off. He would have been running flat out with a very big dog looking to eat him. The police would have definitely been involved.

  • CIT Jul 26, 2012

    138A‑36. Public servant participation in official actions.

    (a) Except as permitted by subsection (d) of this section and under G.S. 138A‑38, no public servant acting in that capacity, authorized to perform an official action requiring the exercise of discretion, shall participate in an official action by the employing entity if the public servant knows the public servant or a person with which the public servant is associated may incur a reasonably foreseeable financial benefit from the matter under consideration, which financial benefit would impair the public servant's independence of judgment or from which it could reasonably be inferred that the financial benefit would influence the public servant's participation in the official action.

  • timtooltime777 Jul 26, 2012

    The good ol boys !! got to love em running everything from law inforcement to judges !

  • jgilchr Jul 26, 2012

    If you really don't believe fracking causes harm talk to people in ND who have seen waste chemicals illegally dumped despite regulations. Talk to people in PA who can light their water on fire because failures in well casings allow gas to seep out pushing existing methane into the aquifers. Is that enough for you?

  • highwindfanatic Jul 26, 2012

    We knew Dr. Covington's dad, the late Dr. M. Cade Covington. He was an amazing man: hard working, self-sacrificing, truly a model citizen. Watching all seven of his children's lives and careers, it is evident he passed down those ethics.

    Hang in there Ray Covington. Thank you for being willing to put up with all that's being slung your way by these monkeys, just hoping something will stick. We encourage you to continue to fight for what's right simply because it's the right thing to do. Thank you for always striving to make the results a win-win for ALL North Carolinians... Including those of us it will affect, directly, the most.

    Citizens of Lee County

    (*They may have "North Carolina" in their name, but we suggest a little research might show where their funding truly originates.)

  • highwindfanatic Jul 26, 2012

    Why are these outside* "non-profits" so determined to sway what North Carolina, and particularly, Lee County, does on this issue. (Especially, understanding how natural gas is much cleaner for the environment compared to our present dependence on coal and oil!) We see this as an odd fight "environmentalist" are choosing.

    There is certainly an agenda hidden here… just not the one WRAL is pursuing when pandering to vocal, self proclaimed "watchdogs." They are actively distorting, even ignoring, what THEY KNOW to be truth. Why? There is something inherently evil about it.

    We understand WRAL's need to sensationalize to sell... Sadly, they are missing the bigger story.