Taxpayers have been getting screwed on oil and gas royalties

A three-month New York Times investigation has uncovered a complex tale of oil and gas royalties, price discrepancies, accounting chicanery, and lax enforcement. But at its heart, it’s the same old story: The Bush administration is essentially helping energy companies screw taxpayers. The American people own oil and gas reserves on public land; energy companies pay royalties to extract and sell them. Oil and gas prices have been rising sharply for years, but the royalties haven’t — if they had, taxpayers would have received an additional $700 million in natural-gas payments in fiscal year 2005 alone. A hubbub over oil-royalty underpayment around the turn of the century resulted in a wave of legal settlements and regulatory reform. Only a couple of years later, though, the Bush administration loosened the rules around gas royalties and booted a couple of the toughest enforcers. The results were predictable. After the NYT published its story yesterday, lawmakers — shocked, shocked to find energy companies were gouging the public — started demanding investigations. Stay tuned.