Tracker reveals Trump administration oil and gas handouts during global pandemic

Jun 12, 2020

JUNE 12, 2020

DENVER—The Center for Western Priorities today released a new tracker keeping tabs on Trump administration handouts to the oil and gas industry during the coronavirus pandemic. After a decade of racking up immense debt and rarely turning a profit, oil and gas corporations were briefly hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic and a global oil glut. Now, oil prices have rebounded. However, the Interior Department is bending over backwards to continue bailing out the industry—lowering royalty rates and granting lease suspensions, sidestepping their responsibility to provide taxpayers a fair return for publicly-owned oil and gas.

The new tracker finds that the Interior Department has so far granted 114 royalty reductions and 359 lease suspensions to oil and gas corporations, while denying very few requests.

“Interior Secretary Bernhardt has made it clear he is in the pocket of oil and gas corporations,” said Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Jesse Prentice-Dunn. “Handouts to Big Oil during this pandemic make it clear that there is no end to the lengths this administration will go to give oil companies what they want.”

Following requests from industry, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, an ex-oil lobbyist with a history of government handouts to the oil and gas industry, stated that Interior would rapidly lower royalty rates for companies that applied for it. Companies normally pay the federal government royalty rates of 12.5 percent and 18.75 percent for producing publicly-owned oil and gas on land and offshore, respectively. That money then goes to the federal treasury and state budgets. However, after asking the Interior Department to cut royalty rates, some companies are paying as little as 0.5 percent in royalty fees. The department is also suspending oil and gas leases for companies that ask, essentially stopping the clock on a lease’s term and underlying obligations, including the obligation to pay lease rents or royalties, all while allowing those companies to hold on to the lease indefinitely.

The new tracker will be updated weekly with the latest information available on oil and gas royalty relief and lease suspensions as reported by the Interior Department in federal databases. All data is available to download.

For more information, visit To speak with an expert on public lands, contact Aaron Weiss at 720-279-0019 or Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox.

Photo: John Ciccarelli, California Bureau of Land Management