Washington, DC Today, government watchdog Accountable.US released a report showing that while President Biden’s conservation agenda stalls, his administration has continued giving wealthy oil and gas companies a “sweetheart deal” to drill on public lands across the United States. As a result, states like Colorado are missing out on millions in additional revenue, which funds government services including public schools. 

According to the Accountable.US report, Colorado could have seen as much as $74 million in additional revenue in 2019 alone if the Biden administration had finally updated the U.S. public lands leasing program to charge wealthy oil and gas companies royalty rates in line with what states charge rather than the current federal rates that have not changed in 100 years. 

As Politico PRO reported, “the Biden Interior Department approved nearly 900 more permits to drill on public land in 2021 than the Trump administration had in its first year in office, according to an analysis from progressive group Center for Biological Diversity.” New analysis from Accountable.US shows 29 of those permits were in Colorado.

 

The Biden administration is allowing critical land conservation efforts to languish while they are busy handing out drilling permits on public lands to wealthy oil and gas companies. The fact that they approved nearly 900 more permits in their first year in office than Trump did in his first year is incredibly disappointing. For too long, the oil and gas industry has refused to pay a fair price for drilling on leased public lands. Colorado’s public schools are being cheated out of potentially millions in additional funding. It is time for the Biden administration to put the interests of Colorado families first by reforming the public lands leasing program without further delay.” 

Jordan Schreiber, a spokesperson from Accountable.US

The Accountable.US report also identifies the major oil and gas companies that benefit most from the outdated federal leasing program. Colorado has 3,339 oil and gas leases totaling 2.4 million acres of federal land. The 20 big oil companies with the most leases nationally hold 789,684 acres of Colorado public lands – 33% of the state’s federal acres – across 1,270 leases, where they benefit from outdated federal leasing terms. Top lessees in the state include: 

  • Caerus Oil & Gas: A private company spending millions to buy assets from big oil companies and locking away 496 leases worth of Colorado’s public lands.
     
  • ExxonMobil: The country’s largest fossil fuel producer that is responsible for one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters and has attempted to avoid at least $212M in royalties.
     
  • Laramie Energy: An oil and gas company whose CEO belittles actions done to fight climate change and sued the federal government to extract on our public lands.  

The 100-year-old royalty rate has long made federal oil and gas leasing a sweetheart deal for Big Oil at the expense of taxpayers. When oil and gas corporations drill on public lands, they compensate the American people with royalty payments, an important revenue that funds important state and local government services, especially public schools. 

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 set the current public lands oil and gas royalty rate at 12.5 percent, a number that is substantially lower than what western states charge on state public lands. For example, Colorado’s royalty rate can be as high as 20 percent. If the federal rate were more in line with what states charge, Colorado might have seen $74 million more in revenue in 2019 alone.  

The report also shows how the oil and gas corporations taking advantage of the outdated federal leasing program have a history of exploiting public lands in Colorado: 

  • Caerus Oil & Gas: Has spent over $1.3 billion acquiring assets from big oil companies while avoiding millions in royalty payments thanks to the outdated federal leasing program.
     
  • ExxonMobil: Is one of the top polluters in the country, causing $2.1 billion worth of environmental damage while raking in billions of profits and attempting to skirt royalty payments. 

For all of the details, read the full report from Accountable.US here. 

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