Tracking Trump administration oil and gas handouts during a global pandemic

Jun 12, 2020

The Interior Department is slashing royalty rates and suspending leases to bail out the bad business practices of oil and gas corporations

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.

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.

In addition to relief from the Interior Department, oil, gas, and mining corporations have received nearly $4.5 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds meant to protect small businesses during the pandemic.

This 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. Data is only made publicly available when the Bureau of Land Management chooses to post it; as such, extensive data could be missing from public federal databases, including the true identities of companies requesting royalty relief in situations where primary lease holders have – unbeknownst to the public – sold away their operating rights.


State-by-state Summary


Royalty Reductions


Lease Suspensions

Source: Bureau of Land Management LR2000 database