Bush Administration Gives Big Oil a Free Ride on Public Lands

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Who said the Bush Administration was hard-hearted? Responding to the plight of oil giants such as ExxonMobil, which netted a mere $36 billion in profits last year,  the Administration is planning to waive another $7 billion in royalties for drilling on public lands.

U.S. Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies

The New York Times, Feb, 14, 2006

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department’s just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government. 

Based on the administration figures, the government will give up more than $7 billion in payments between now and 2011.

The companies are expected to get the largess, known as royalty relief, even though the administration assumes that oil prices will remain above $50 a barrel throughout that period.

Administration officials say that the benefits are dictated by laws and regulations that date back to 1996, when energy prices were relatively low and Congress wanted to encourage more exploration and drilling in the high-cost, high-risk deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.   “We need to remember the primary reason that incentives are given,” said Johnnie M. Burton, director of the federal Minerals Management Service. “It’s not to make more money, necessarily. It’s to make more oil, more gas, because production of fuel for our nation is essential to our economy and essential to our people.” 

But what seemed like modest incentives 10 years ago have ballooned to levels that have alarmed even ardent supporters of the oil and gas industry, partly because of added sweeteners approved during the Clinton administration but also because of ambiguities in the law that energy companies have successfully exploited in court.

Short of imposing new taxes on the industry, there may be little Congress can do to reverse its earlier giveaways. The new projections come at a moment when President Bush and Republican leaders are on the defensive about record-high energy prices, soaring profits at major oil companies and big cuts in domestic spending.

 

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