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July 30th, 2019
Chair Grijalva, Rep. Lowenthal Push Interior Secretary for Documents as DOI Ignores Taxpayer Risks of Offshore Oil and Gas Decommissioning Costs

Washington, D.C.– Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, sent a letter today to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt seeking documents on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) decision to cancel regulatory measures that would have protected U.S. taxpayers from billions of dollars in costs to remove disused offshore oil and gas infrastructure. The letter questions BOEM’s failure to develop new financial assurance regulations a full two years after the agency’s initial target date.

The lawmakers’ letter, available at, requests documents and internal communications between Department of the Interior (DOI) employees during the first six months of the Trump administration related to BOEM’s actions on offshore decommissioning, as well as communications between Department employees and the oil and gas industry.

In December 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported approximately $38.2 billion in decommissioning liabilities in the Gulf of Mexico, including up to $2.3 billion for which U.S. taxpayers were potentially on the hook. To address the risks GAO identified, BOEM released a Notice to Lessees (NTL) in 2016 proposing major changes to the way companies demonstrate their ability to cover future decommissioning costs.

BOEM also began requiring additional bonding guarantees from operators of properties with only a single liable party, known as “sole liability” properties, which BOEM described as presenting “the greatest programmatic risk to the American taxpayer.”

However, in February 2017, the Trump administration withdrew BOEM’s sole liability orders. In June 2017, BOEM announced it was indefinitely postponing the implementation of the 2016 NTL to allow the agency more time to complete a review. Since 2017, BOEM has not put forward new regulations to address the financial risks to taxpayers, and BOEM has not reissued the 2016 NTL or the sole liability letters.

“Opening more public waters to fossil fuel development is a bad enough idea on its own, but doing it without protecting taxpayers from cleanup costs is absurd,” Grijalva said today. “Companies operating on public lands and waters need to understand the American people aren’t there to bail them out when they don’t want to clean up after themselves. The people in charge of these recent failures at BOEM need to explain their thought process so Congress can decide whether it needs to get involved. Trump’s Interior Department puts corporations first and taxpayers last, and anyone who denies it should have a good explanation for why these rules aren’t in place.”

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