Last week, Rep. Raul Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall released a copy of their request for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to determine if Americans are receiving a fair return on the oil, gas, and hardrock minerals extracted from public lands. This could prove to be an important step to shining the spotlight and shutting down one type of corporate welfare to oil and gas companies.

The top five oil and gas companies raked in $67.4 billion in profits in the first six months of 2011, with much of the oil they sold coming from public lands. That’s in addition to the $15 billion they receive annually through a variety of government handouts. The American public should receive a fair share for the development of publicly-owned lands.

Unfortunately, Big Oil isn’t paying their fair share and, in fact, are enjoying “royalty free” development of public resources. Here’s what Taxpayers for Common Sense outlined in their 2011 “Subsidy Gusher” report:

“Annual reports of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) from 1998‐2009 report $2.14459 billion in “royalty free” oil and gas production and estimate the royalty free production for 2011‐2015 will total $4.365 billion for oil, $159.867 million for gas (deep gas) and $2.384 billion in gas (deep water).

Grijalva and Udall asked the GAO to make two determinations:

  1. The amount of minerals extracted from public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf, and the value of those minerals.
  2. How much the federal government collected for these minerals – including royalties, rents and bonuses – and how this amount was determined.

Checks and Balances Project Deputy Director Matt Garrington had this to say:

“Oil and gas companies are robbing American taxpayers blind. ExxonMobil and BP are making billions and can pay a fair price for developing publicly owned oil and gas resources. The report requested by Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Udall is an important step to stopping the giveaway of our public lands to Big Oil.”

Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, also weighed-in:

“With record high metals prices and skyrocketing industry profits, it’s time for mining companies to pay their fair share. When it comes to our public lands, we need sound fiscal policies, not an outdated mining law that lets mining companies fleece taxpayers out of millions.”

Read Rep. Grijalva and Sen. Udall’s letter to the GAO.