The Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee announced plans yesterday to conduct an inquiry into the special tax breaks received by the independent oil industry, which has become a major source of campaign contributions to Republicans and to the Republican party.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the oversight subcommittee, said the panel will:
"Inquire into the extent to which the present law favors certain kinds of oil and gas producers relative to others, whether tax treatment which is not uniform is good tax and energy policy, and whether the specific provisions to provide differing treatment work as they were intended."
During the past two elections, the independent oil industry has provoked growing anger among Democrats because individual producers and their political action committees have targeted the overwhelming majority of campaign contributions to Republicans, even in races where incumbent Democratic representatives have voted down the line in favor of the industry.
"Oilmen have the political loyalty of a copperhead," Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) complained during the last election.
Two of his solidly pro-oil Democratic colleagues in Oklahoma, Reps. Dave McCurdy and Glenn English, faced opponents who were financed in large part by independent oil producers.
Over the past eight years, the independent oil industry has received a number of special tax breaks. Among them:
* Although major producers no longer can claim percentage depletion, independent producers can get the favorable tax treatment on up to 1,000 barrels of oil a day. (To qualify as an independent, a producer can refine no more than 50,000 barrels of oil a day, and can sell in the retail market no more than $5 million worth of oil a year.)
* Independents pay far lower rates under the windfall profits tax than major oil companies and pay no windfall tax at all on oil from stripper wells (wells that produce at a very low rate).
* Major oil companies can immediately write off 85 percent of intangible drilling costs, and the remaining 15 percent must be written off over three years. Independents immediately can write off 100 percent of these costs.