Wednesday, August 28, 2013


(h/t Atrios)

The Fracking Business is 110% American  Capitalism...
Frackers slash billions in payments to landowners
Abrahm Lustgarten, PROPUBLICA Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 11:00 PM

Over the last decade, an untold number of leases were signed, and hundreds of thousands of wells have been sunk into new energy deposits across the country. But manipulation of costs and other data by oil companies is keeping billions of dollars in royalties out of the hands of private and government landholders, an investigation by ProPublica has found.

Deducting expenses is itself controversial and debated as unfair among landowners, but it is allowable under many leases, some of which were signed without landowners fully understanding their implications. But some companies deduct expenses for transporting and processing natural gas, even when leases contain clauses explicitly prohibiting such deductions. In other cases, according to court files and documents obtained by ProPublica, they withhold money without explanation for other, unauthorized expenses, and without telling landowners that the money is being withheld.

To keep royalties low, companies sometimes set up subsidiaries or limited partnerships to which they sell oil and gas at reduced prices, only to recoup the full value of the resources when their subsidiaries resell it. Royalty payments are usually based on the initial transaction. In other cases, companies have bartered for services off the books, hiding the full value of resources from landowners. In a 2003 case in Louisiana, for example, Kerr McGee, now owned by Anadarko Petroleum, sold its oil for a fraction of its value – and paid royalties to the government on the discounted amount – in a trade arrangement for marketing services that were never accounted for on its cash flow statements. The federal government sued, and won.

A spokesman for the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue says that over the last three decades, the government has recouped more than $4 billion in unpaid fees from such cases.

Once the gas is produced, a host of opaque transactions influence how sales are accounted for and proceeds are allocated to everyone entitled to a slice. The chain of custody and division of shares is so complex that even the country’s best forensic accountants struggle to make sense of energy companies’ books.

In 2003, a jury found that Exxon had defrauded the state of Alabama out of royalty payments and ordered the company to pay nearly $103 million in back royalties and interest, plus $11.8 billion in punitive damages. (The punitive damages were reduced to $3.5 billion on appeal, and then eliminated by the state supreme court in 2007.)

In 2007, a jury ordered a Chesapeake subsidiary to pay $404 million, including $270 million in punitive damages, for cheating a class of leaseholders in West Virginia.

In 2010, Shell was hit with a $66 million judgment, including $52 million in punitive fines, after a jury decided the company had hidden a prolific well and then intentionally misled landowners when they sought royalties. The judgment was upheld on appeal.

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