Mobil Oil and several affiliate companies have agreed to pay $32.2 million to resolve False Claims Act violation allegations. According to the Department of Justice, Mobil Natural Gas Inc., Mobil Exploration & Producing U.S. Inc. and their affiliates “knowingly underpaid royalties” owed from the production of natural gas on American Indian and Federal lands. The Justice Department alleges that from March 1, 1988 to Nov. 30, 1999, the Mobil companies underpaid multiple Native American tribes and the United States due to the systematic understating of the produced natural gas’ value. The Mobil companies’ settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by whistleblower Harold Wright.
Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice stated the following:
"The message to those who seek to evade their mineral royalty obligations is this: We will aggressively pursue you. We at the Justice Department are committed to protecting the public trust by ensuring that those who remove valuable minerals, some of which are non-renewable, from American Indian or public lands pay their full, fair, negotiated share for those assets."
Under the qui tam (or whistleblower) provisions of the Federal False Claims Act, private citizens such as Mr. Wright may file lawsuits on behalf of the United States. These provisions also allow the whistleblower to recover a portion of any settlement received by the government. Although Mr. Wright passed away before the Mobil companies settled, his heirs will receive approximately $975,000 for his role.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service requires companies such as Mobil and its affiliates to report the value of natural gas produced on federal lands (including American Indian lands) on a monthly basis. According to the United States, the Mobil Companies “used transactions with affiliated entities to falsely reduce the reported value of gas taken from federal and American Indian leases to claim excessive deductions for the cost of transporting that gas, and to otherwise understate the value they reported each month for their natural gas production.”
Thanks to the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, private citizens such as Mr. Wright can bring violations to light. Thanks to Mr. Wright’s actions, the United States will receive $32.2 million, and his heirs will be rewarded $975,000 for his role in supporting justice.
Mobil Oil Companies to Pay U.S. $32.2 Million to Resolve Allegations of Underpayment of Royalties from American Indian and Federal Lands – U.S. Department of Justice
Mobil Companies Settle Unpaid Royalties Case for $32 Million - Law.com
Case Information: U.S. ex rel. Wright v. Chevron USA, Inc. et al., 5:03-CV-264 (E.D. Tex.)