Lawmaker pushes oil companies to open their books

A Democratic lawmaker is asking BP, Shell Oil Co., ExxonMobil and 11 other companies today to open their books and shed light on the value of the crude, gas and minerals they have extracted from public lands and waters.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is behind the request, which he says is necessary to make sure taxpayers are getting a “fair return” from energy development and hard rock mining.

“This information will help … determine whether our federal lands are currently being put to the best use,” Grijalva says in letters to a sampling of 14 companies that hold federal drilling and mining leases. “Taxpayers rightly demand the maximum financial benefit from publicly owned property and commodities.”

“In this tough economy, we need accurate information to make the best fiscal decisions for our nation,” adds Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “Taxpayers deserve a full accounting of the economic activity that takes place on land they own, including the public financial benefits.”

The push builds on an earlier request by Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., for a Government Accounting Office study of the issue. But that examination won’t be complete until next year, and Grijalva wants the data sooner. He is asking the energy and mining companies to cough up the information by Dec. 15.

Specifically, Grijalva is asking the companies to detail:

  • the financial value of coal and other commodities (including oil and natural gas) that the firms and their subsidiaries extracted from property leased from the United States during fiscal 2010.
  • how much the companies and their subsidiaries spent leasing the property.
  • what the firms and their subsidiaries paid in royalties and fees to the federal government as part of the projects.
  • the total projected value of extraction work being done on property that the companies and their subsidiaries are leasing from the federal government.

Although the U.S. government collects royalties for oil and gas extracted from public lands and federal waters, the same isn’t true for hard rock mining of silver, gold, copper and other minerals on federal land. The federal government currently does not collect royalties for mineral development on public land.

President Barack Obama proposed changing that practice in his fiscal 2012 budget request earlier this year, and the idea has been debated sporadically on Capitol Hill.

Any new data about revenue from oil and gas development — and the lack of royalties from hard rock mining — could pave the way for changes on Capitol Hill. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also has been examining royalty rates charged for oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters and has raised the possibility that some of those charges could be hiked.

Grijalva is sending his request to a representative sampling of companies with federal leases. The companies receiving the letters today are: Alpha Natural Resources, Barrick Gold Company, BG Americas & Global LNG, BHP Billiton, BP America, CONSOL Energy, Denison Mines (USA), ExxonMobil, Freeport McMoRan, Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto Minerals, Rio Tinto Copper, Shell Oil and Total Holdings USA.

A copy of Grijalva’s letter to Shell is below.