January 13, 2015

Wyden Amendments to Keystone XL Pipeline Bill to End Taxpayer Subsidy for Tar Sands Cleanup, Reduce Wasted Natural Gas

Amendments Would Close Loophole Exempting Tar Sands From Oil Spill Cleanup Fees and Ensure Taxpayers Receive Fair Share from Energy Production

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today introduced two amendments to a Senate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Wyden’s amendments would require foreign oil companies – not taxpayers – to be responsible for cleaning up oil spills and ensure taxpayers receive fair returns for energy produced on public lands, while minimizing environmental impacts.

Wyden opposes the Keystone XL Pipeline, which poses major environmental concerns, and risks increasing gasoline prices in parts of the country. He has voted against it every time it has come up for a vote on the Senate floor.

“The amendments I introduced today will ensure taxpayers in Oregon and across the country aren’t on the hook for the cost of cleaning up oil spilled by foreign companies,” Wyden said. “Taxpayers must receive full value from the oil and gas that's produced on federal lands, so I am asking Congress to send the message that producers must stop wasting valuable natural gas.”

The amendments would:

  • Treat tar sands oil like other types of crude oil under the federal tax code. Currently, oil from tar sands is not considered crude oil in the tax code, and as a result, refiners of tar sands oil are not required to pay the tax that provides funding for cleanups through the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Cleanups from recent pipeline oil spills – the Enbridge spill in Michigan in 2010 and the 2013 ExxonMobil spill in Arkansas – received funding from the OSLTF, but the trust fund fee did not apply to the spilled tar sands oil. This provision falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Put the Senate on record that taxpayers should receive full value from domestic energy production on federal lands and minimize the amount of natural gas that is wasted through flaring, venting or leaks. The Department of the Interior does not currently require companies to pay royalties or capture flared natural gas, which could otherwise be used as valuable American-produced energy. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that about $23 million is lost annually in the domestic production of oil and gas on federal lands through leaked or flared natural gas. The GAO estimates about 40 percent of the wasted gas is economically recoverable.

The Senate is expected to vote on passage of the bill next week. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill on January 9. 

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