Oxfam battles Big Oil push for disclosure exemptions

Oil companies — in comments to the SEC and meetings with the regulators — say that absent significant leeway, the mandates will be burdensome and place them at a disadvantage compared to certain state-backed Russian and Chinese companies when competing for projects.

Oil companies say the SEC’s final rule should avoid forcing companies to disclose information at the specific-project level, or at least avoid making such disclosures available to the public.

The American Petroleum Institute and specific companies are also calling on the SEC to provide exemptions for projects in countries where the host governments prohibit such disclosures.

But the Oxfam comments call on the SEC to reject calls to allow companies to submit aggregate data — the group says the rule should ensure disclosure of payments “at the lease and license level.”

Oxfam also opposes exemptions in cases when host governments bar disclosure, which API, Exxon, Shell and other companies are seeking.

“Some of these commenters have provided examples of host countries that currently have such laws in place — Angola, Cameroon, China, and Qatar — without citing specific laws,” Oxfam states. “Oxfam America respectfully submits that those countries which cloak their extractive industry dealings in secrecy are the very countries at which Congress‘ transparency efforts are directed.”

The Wall Street law provision is aimed at reversing the “resource curse” in which energy- and mineral-rich nations in Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption, conflict and poverty.

Oil companies, in various comments to the SEC, emphasize that they support transparency, but point to their work with a voluntary international program called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Oxfam, however, said notes that congressional authors of the Wall Street law provision intended the measure to go beyond EITI.

Their comments state that “merely codifying EITI-style reporting would be contrary to congressional intent” and that EITI alone is not sufficient.

EITI “has been an important first step in promoting extractive industry payment transparency,” the comments state, but add: “That said, the data provided through the EITI scheme is often unreliable due to a lack of genuine oversight and the absence of any meaningful liability for furnishing misleading data.”

Elsewhere, the Oxfam comments seek to rebut claims that the provision will result in an uneven playing field among oil companies competing for projects, noting,  “most of the leading international oil companies will be subject to reporting obligations.” Oxfam also calls claims that companies will be forced to disclose commercially sensitive information “exaggerated.”