Activists push for disclosure of oil, gas payments to host nations

Humanitarian activists launched a campaign today urging federal regulators to finalize rules that would require oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to U.S. and foreign governments for developing the nations’ natural resources.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has to issue the rules under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law’s Section 1504, which requires SEC-listed companies that extract the resources to disclose what they pay to host governments in the nations where they operate. Supporters such as Oxfam America, a Boston-based humanitarian group, have said the rules would encourage transparency and help stem corruption in countries with the “resource curse,” in which nations rich in oil, gas and other resources nonetheless suffer from conflict, impoverishment and ineffective political institutions.

The campaign appears to serve as a response to the oil and gas industry’s lobbying efforts to weaken the rules. The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group, told the SEC last month that the body didn’t properly assess the economic impacts when first proposing the rules and that U.S. companies would face “a significant competitive disadvantage to foreign companies not covered by the proposed rule (in particular, foreign, state-owned oil companies).”

“Our campaign aims to send a strong message that we’re watching, and ready to fight back if the regulatory agency issues weak final rules,” Ian Gary, senior policy manager with the oil, gas and mining program in Oxfam’s Washington office, said in a statement.

The group says energy companies are fighting similar disclosure proposals in Europe.

The campaign seeks to portray the SEC and oil companies as in bed with each other, as well as to expose what Oxfam calls hypocritical transparency rhetoric on the part of oil companies.

Activists led by Oxfam America started the campaign with a demonstration this morning outside the SEC’s office in Washington, urging the regulatory body to finalize the rules and resist the oil and gas industry’s efforts to weaken them. Activists will then protest outside the Houston office of San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron Corp. next Thursday.

Oxfam America, Global Witness and a number of human-rights and anti-poverty organizations also are planning a six-figure ad buy in several news publications next week, including the print edition of The Wall Street Journal and web editions of the Hill, the Washington Post, Politico and the Huffington Post.

Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank was authored by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. A Twitter account that identifies as belonging to Cardin and his Senate campaign gave a shout-out to Oxfam on mid-Friday.

“Kudos @oxfam for standing up for transparency in oil/gas,” Cardin tweeted. “The US should be leading the world not delaying action.”

This story was last updated at 12:50 p.m.