Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chevron tricks; Bush treats

Trick-or-treating through the corridors of power this Halloween? Try dressing up as Big Oil—you’re sure to get the best handouts.

U.S. Drops Bid Over Royalties From Chevron

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 — The Interior Department has dropped claims that the Chevron Corporation systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico, a decision that could allow energy companies to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

The agency had ordered Chevron to pay $6 million in additional royalties but could have sought tens of millions more had it prevailed. The decision also sets a precedent that could make it easier for oil and gas companies to lower the value of what they pump each year from federal property and thus their payments to the government.

. . . .

“The government is giving up without a fight,” said Richard T. Dorman, a lawyer representing private citizens suing Chevron over its federal royalty payments. “If this decision is left standing, it would result in the loss of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in royalties owed by other companies.”

In return for the right to drill on federal lands and in federal waters, energy companies are required to pay the government a share of their proceeds. Last year, businesses producing natural gas paid $5.15 billion in government royalties.

But the Bush administration has come under fire on Capitol Hill for its record on collecting payments. While the Interior Department has sweetened incentives for exploration and pushed to open wilderness areas for drilling, it has also cut back on full-scale audits of companies intended to make sure they are paying their full share.

Administration officials knew that dozens of companies had incorrectly claimed exemptions from royalties since 2003, but they waited until December 2005 to send letters demanding about $500 million in repayments.

. . . .

In addition, four government auditors last month publicly accused the Interior Department of blocking their efforts to recover more than $30 million from the Shell Oil Corporation, the Kerr-McGee Corporation and other major companies.

“This latest revelation proves that the Bush administration is incapable of preventing big oil companies from cheating taxpayers,” said Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the House Committee on Resources. “The public has been systematically fleeced out of royalties that these companies owe for the privilege of drilling for oil and gas on lands belonging to all of us.”

(Pssst, America, want all the candy you’re due? One week from today, vote for a Democrat.)


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