A still-secret report turned over Tuesday to Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus criticizes 10 major oil companies for holding back natural gas that the report says could have been produced to ease this winter's gas shortage.
The report identifies four major gas fields on offshore lands in the Gulf of Mexico that were leased from the Interior Department four years ago without yet being put into production.
Andrus has not made the report public because he wants to discuss it with President Carter before doing so, an Interior Department spokesman said.
Just how much natural gas is locked up in the four fields identified in the report is not known, but sources close to the Interior Department and the Federal Power Commission said the amount might be as much as 400 billion cubic feet.
Four hundred billion cubic feet of natural gas would have been enough to keep at least some of the schools and factories open that were forced to close this winter in 17 states east of the Rocky Mountains.
At the start of the heating season last fall, the FPC estimated that the country would suffer a shortage this winter of 1.5 trillion cubic feet. The real shortage is at least 2 trillion cubic feet and by the end of the winter might be as high as 2.5 trillion cubic feet, and FPC source said.
The report was presented to Andrus Tuesday by a six-man investigative team whose sources for their findings were understood to be documents compiled from public records. One source close to the investigative team said the team did not visit any of the fields in the Gulf of Mexico and did not talk to any companies leasing the fields.
At least two of the four gas fields identified in the report are mentioned in a similar report made public last December by the Federal Power Commission, which questioned why the fields had not been put into production but which accepted some of the companies' reasons for withholding production.
The four gas fields identified in the Interior report are the East Cameron Block 271 field, the Tiger Shoals field, the Grand Island Block 43 field and the South Marsh Island Block 48 field, all off the coast of Louisiana. The 10 companies holding the leases on these fields are Tenneco Inc., Gulf Oil Corp., Mobil Oil Corp., Amoco, Union OH Co., Texaco Inc., Cities Service., Getty Oil Corp., Atlantic-Richfield Corp and Continental Oil Co.
The East Cameron field is operated by Tenneco and is now in production, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which keeps records of gas produced from federal lands. It could not be learned last night why the East Cameron field was included in the Interior Study, though it may have been used as an example of a large field held out of production longer than necessary.
The Tiger Shoals field is operated by Texaco. The FPC said last December that the field could have moved into production this year. The FPC said there is as much as 87 billion cubic feet of gas in two Tiger Shoals reservoirs and 117 billion cubic feet in four other reservoirs.
All six reservoirs were tapped by Texaco in exploratory drilling, then capped to await installation of pipelines and production platforms. Texaco has dedicated the gas to two pipelines that were short of gas this winter but has said it will not produce that gas until 1981.
Texaco told the FPC it did not have any available drilling rigs to produce the Tiger Shoals gas, but the FPC replied that the Tiger Shoals fields are in such shallow water (15 feet) that new wells could have been drilled using only one rig to speed up production.
The South Marsh Island field is operated by Gulf, Mobil, Amoco and Union. The FPC report said Amoco had refused to drill a new well in its field because "it did not have the $1 million necessary to drill this new well.
"With the focus on maintenance of deliveries to the consuming public," the FPC went on, "it becomes even clearer that Amoco has acted unreasonably in not developing the nonproducing reserves in question." The report did not criticise the other three field operators.
The investigative team that turned over its report to Interior Secretary Andrus included David Schwartz of the Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee staff. Larry Kruysman and Vic Zabel of the Federal Power Commission, Paul Martin of the U.S. Geological Survey and George Donkin, an economic consultant who is a former FPC staff member. The team was led by Leo Krulitz, special consultant to Andrus.