Government Sells Scandal-Plagued Teapot Dome Oilfield

Jan 30, 2015

The rock that gave Teapot Dome its name. The spout and handle have disappeared since the rock was named, but are visible in historical photographs.
Credit Stephanie Joyce

 

A hundred years after it embroiled the Harding administration in scandal, the government has sold Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfield to a private company.

Teapot Dome was set aside by Congress in 1915 as a strategic petroleum reserve for the Navy, but in the 1920s, Interior Secretary Albert Fall secretly sold parts of the field to private oil companies in exchange for bribes, earning the dubious distinction of being the first Cabinet-level official to be jailed for corruption. In the decades since, the oilfield has mostly been used for government testing.

On Friday, the Department of Energy sold the field to Stranded Oil Resources, a subsidiary of Alleghany Capital for $45.2 million. Matt Meagher brokered the deal on behalf of the government. He says that's an extremely high price relative to most private sales in the region, but adds Teapot Dome isn’t your average oil field, and not just because of its history.

"It’s a hundred percent ownership of the minerals and the surface, which is unusual," he said.

That means Standard Oil Resources will pay no royalties on the oil it extracts -- and there’s still a lot of it in the ground. The government estimates only 10 percent of the field’s 300 million barrels of oil have been tapped.