The Interior Department said yesterday that it would provide Indian tribes and western states with computer terminals and programs so they can keep better track of oil and gas royalties collected for them by the federal government.
The computers were one of several initiatives the department's Minerals Managment Service announced to streamline the collection, accounting and distribution of about $1.3 billion in annual royalties from onshore leases. About $700 million is passed on to western states and Indian tribes.
Up to now, when a state, a tribe or an individual Indian received a royalty check, there was no way to tell which oil production generated the money.
Several reports in recent years spotlighted shortcomings in the creaky system that saw money flow in some cases from the oil driller through two Interior divisions to the ultimate recipient.
William Bettenberg, director of the minerals service, said at a news conference yesterday that department auditors had found about $130 million that "somebody owed the federal government. We know there is more out there."
Among other changes, the department will:
* Issue new guidelines by December for the valuation and checking of oil production.
* Form a Royalty Management Board to direct royalty management activities in the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
* Study more contracting out and the possibility of more direct payments from producers to Indian tribes.
On April 29, the department awarded a four-year contract totaling about $20 million to Martin Marietta Corp. to upgrade the computer systems used to handle royalties. The new system should enable royalty recipients to determine where their money is coming from, the department said.