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Sometimes – though I feel a bit queasy about it – I think the liberals may have a point about the oil companies. The New York Times reports that while gasoline and natural gas prices have soared, big oil royalty payments for oil and gas pumped from publicly owned lands is little more than it was five years ago. In fact, the Times reports, if Royalty payments had kept track with market prices, the government would have received $700 million more.

It seems that federal regulations lobbied for, fiercely defended and in part written by oil companies allowed them to tell the Interior Department they received lower sales prices for natural gas – than they told their own shareholders. As a result, they paid lower royalties. And as a result, they paid lower royalties. And as a result, taxpayers – technically the owners of the U.S. oil and gas reserves – get stiffed.

In fact, this happened once before, five years ago, about royalty payments for oil. Back then, oil companies paid a total of $438 million to settle charges they’d understated their sales prices for oil. But since then the Bush administration ‘loosened’ the rules for natural gas.

Maybe next time they should let someone who heats their home with natural gas help write the regulations.

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