Why GAO Did This Study
The Department of the Interior (Interior) administers minerals found in over 700 million acres of federal lands, 57 million acres on Indian lands, and 1.8 billion acres below offshore waters. Operators who lease these lands and extract these minerals pay billions of dollars annually that are shared among federal, state, and Indian tribal governments and are one of the largest nontax sources of revenue to the federal government. Some of these minerals, such as oil, gas, and coal, are available through leases requiring payments in the form of rents and bonuses, which are required to secure and maintain a lease, and royalties, which are based on the value of the minerals that are extracted. These minerals are generally known as leasable minerals. The Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) is responsible for compiling data on the volume and value of leasable minerals produced from all federal and Indian lands where there is a trust responsibility, and collecting the appropriate payments. In contrast, other minerals, such as gold, silver, and copper, are governed by the General Mining Act of 1872, which makes these minerals available to operators through a federal claim-patent system that provides the right to explore, extract, and develop the federal mineral deposit without having to pay a royalty. These minerals are generally known as hardrock minerals.
Congress asked us to review minerals extracted from federal lands. Our objectives were to provide information on the (1) volume and dollar value of leasable minerals extracted from federal lands and waters in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; (2) amount the federal government collected for leasable minerals in royalties, rents, bonuses, and other revenue and how this amount was calculated; and (3) availability of data on the volume and dollar value of hardrock minerals extracted from federal lands in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.