US Senate report says oil royalty rule may be tainted

A US Senate Energy Committee report says two government employees who received payments from an oil royalty lawsuit may have improperly influenced an Department of the Interior rule. The interior department was considering oil royalty rule changes at the time. It issued a royalty reform rule this spring, and the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America have sued to overturn it.


Washington, DC�A US Senate Energy Committee report says two government employees who received payments from an oil royalty lawsuit may have improperly influenced an Department of the Interior rule.

The interior department was considering oil royalty rule changes at the time. It issued a royalty reform rule this spring, and the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America have sued to overturn it.

Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alas.) released the report, written by Paul Thompson, an investigator on loan from the General Accounting Office.

The report said the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) had filed a public-interest lawsuit against oil companies to collect alleged royalty underpayments, and when an oil firm settled without trial, POGO paid the energy and interior department employees $383,600 each. The two were Robert Speir, an energy department policy advisor, and Robert Berman, an interior policy advisor.

POGO said the payments were �public service awards� in recognition of the employees �whistle-blowing� activities.

In his report, Thompson said, �The officials were substantially involved in key stages of the [interior] department�s policy development process [on the oil royalty reform rule] in ways that served the interests of POGO�s chairman and its executive director. Whether the payments and circumstances under which they were made could serve to erode confidence in the department�s administration of the royalty management program is a well-grounded concern.�

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), chairman of the House subcommittee on energy and mineral resources, held an oversight hearing Tuesday on the POGO payments.

Cubin said, �It now appears the offer to share POGO�s litigation proceeds may have been a bribe paid...to Bob Berman and Bob Speir. There is, in my view, more than enough evidence and damning circumstances to warrant a serious, broad-ranging criminal investigation.

�When we are finished, I feel sure the committee will be making criminal referrals to the justice department.�

More in Home