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GAO Report: $3.5 Billion Worth of Minerals Produced on Indian Lands in FY 2011

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Oil, gas, coal and other minerals on Indian lands were worth $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2011, up from $2.8 billion in FY 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Wednesday.

While federal lands account for the majority of resource development at 700 million acres, the GAO analysis of leases showed an increase in activity on the 57 million acres of Indian lands, specifically for oil. The total sales value of oil on Indian lands increased the most, from $0.9 billion (a production of 13.2 million oil barrels) in FY 2010 to $1.6 billion (19.4 million oil barrels) in FY 2011.

Gas remained consistent at a value of $1 billion for both years, as did coal at $0.6 billion. The cost of natural gas liquids increased from $0.1 billion to $0.2 billion for those fiscal years.

Tribal governments and Indian beneficiaries realized more revenue in FY 2011 due to the increased activity. According to the report, $538 million was disbursed to Indian country in 2011, up from $408 million in 2010.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the GAO cannot assess how much gold, copper and other hard-rock minerals are being extracted from federal or Indian lands, because mining companies are not required to pay royalties, which are based on the value of the minerals that are extracted. The corporations that mine for hard-rock minerals only pay fees to secure and maintain a lease. But the recent GAO analysis could "spur a renewed push to reform the 140-year-old law governing U.S. hard-rock mining," the Journal stated. The issue is increasingly paramount when the value of a mineral like metal is taken into consideration. Over the past decade, the price of metal has risen from $300 to $1,700 an ounce.

“This should be front and center of the natural resource agenda for this next administration,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) told the Journal. “These hard-rock minerals belong to the American people, and today we’re quite literally giving our gold and silver away.”