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Project on Government Oversight

Natural Resources

The federal government has failed in its role as a steward of public natural resources. The tremendous influence exerted by oil and gas companies and other special interests has resulted in industry-friendly political appointments and legislative initiatives, and cozy relationships between the government and industry. The result has been a veritable fire sale on the nation’s oil, natural gas, and other resources. POGO's Natural Resources Investigations are aimed at making the federal government more accountable to Western states, Native American tribes, and the U.S. taxpayer.  Click on the program areas below to learn more.

POGO Oversight of the Department of the Interior
Most taxpayers had never heard of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) until the Department of the Interior's Inspector General found in 2008 that MMS employees had accepted gifts, ski vacations, and sex from industry personnel, but POGO has been investigating the problems at MMS for many years. Unfortunately, the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf Coast only provides another example that MMS may be failing to adequately protect taxpayers' natural resources.

EPA Oversight
The National Ombudsman at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) independently investigated complaints against the EPA that have local, regional, and national significance.  The Ombudsman came under attack from EPA management for exposing instances in which the EPA has been inadequate in its handling of Superfund sites.  POGO had urged the EPA to preserve the National Ombudsman; however, the office was eventually folded into EPA’s Office of Inspector General.  

Toxins leaking from the Atlas Corporation’s uranium tailing pile in Moab, Utah contaminated the source of drinking water for approximately 25 million people in Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California.  POGO’s investigations revealed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acquiesced to the Atlas Corporation’s efforts to limit its Moab site clean-up expense.  POGO and other groups pushed for and won their battle to have the jurisdiction of the tailing pile moved to the Department of Energy (DOE), which possesses the required experience in moving similar sites.  DOE has committed to relocating the toxic uranium mill tailings, but POGO believes that the timetable for cleaning up the site remains far too long.  

Oil & Gas Royalties
A small agency inside the Department of the Interior (DOI) called Mineral Management Services (MMS) has the responsibility of collecting billions of dollars from oil and gas companies drilling on federal and Native American lands.  Starting in 1993, POGO began a series of investigations which revealed that taxpayers had been shortchanged billions of dollars in oil and gas royalties.  POGO’s work also revealed that MMS has steadfastly refused to audit oil and gas companies, despite the fact this is the only way to ensure that they continue to pay their fair share to the federal government.  POGO is committed to reforming the government’s revenue collection process, ensuring fair contracting, increasing accounting accuracy at MMS, and holding industry accountable for fair and accurate reporting of minerals extracted from federal lands.
Oil & Gas Royalty In-Kind
The Royalty In-Kind program, managed by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) within the Department of the Interior, allows oil and gas companies to pay royalties through actual product--crude oil or natural gas--rather than in cash. POGO’s investigations of the Royalty In-Kind program have revealed that MMS is too cozy with industry, resulting in significant management and auditing weaknesses that may be costing taxpayers many millions of dollars. 

Oil & Gas Royalty Litigation
In June 1997, POGO and others filed a qui tam False Claims Act lawsuit against the biggest oil companies drilling on federal lands.  In August 1998, the Mobil Oil Company settled the False Claims litigation for $45 million, of which POGO received $1.2 million.  Since 1986, whistleblower False Claims Act suits charging that industry has underpaid royalties owed have recovered more than $4 billion.
Prudhoe Bay 
For over two decades, POGO Board member Chuck Hamel has fought to expose and remedy fraud and other misconduct in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and North Slope crude production facilities.  He has also worked to improve BP’s safety culture and protect the environment.  His allegations of the dysfunctional corrosion control program at Prudhoe Bay, among other deficiencies, were validated by the shutdown of a large portion of BP’s Prudhoe Bay operations.