Trump team faulted over breaks for energy firms
BILLINGS, Mont. — A U.S. government watchdog agency faulted the Trump administration Tuesday for its handling of a COVID-19 relief effort that awarded companies breaks on payments for oil and gas extracted from public lands in Western states in more than 500 cases.
The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, said haphazard rules for the program left the administration unable to say how much relief was given or if it would ultimately benefit taxpayers, aswas intended.
The Bureau of Land Management gave breaks on royalty payments from companies in at least five states due to workforce problems or other issues after thepandemic shut down much of the economy and helped drive a collapse in oil prices.
The Trump administration also gave breaks to companies that extract oil in the Gulf of Mexico but has released scant details of that effort.
Offering royalty relief to companies had been done before the pandemic and is intended to boost the profitability of oil and gaswells so they can still be profitable. The idea is to protect against companies being forced to shut downwells permanently.
But it’s unknown if that happened as the Trump administration approved at least 581 relief requests during its early response to the pandemic. Most of the approvals were in Wyoming, with cases also approved in Utah, Colorado and by a bureau office that covers Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The land bureau “did not follow its directives manual,” GAO’s natural resources branch director, Frank Rusco, said in Tuesday’s report.
The report estimated lost revenues of $4.5 million fromthe land bureau program, but said thatwas a conservative figures that doesn’t include all forgone revenues.