Trump team faulted over breaks for en­ergy firms

Daily Southtown - - Business - By Matthew Brown

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.

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