Big Oil keeps up fight against disclosure of foreign government payments

The oil industry is continuing its fight against disclosures of specific company payments to foreign governments.

While the industry lobbying group American Petroleum Institute says it supports disclosing amounts paid to other countries for drilling rights, it opposes specifically disclosing what each company pays to those countries.

In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, the institute proposed that the SEC publish aggregate totals that multiple companies paid to countries, without tying specific payments to companies.

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The group said the method would accomplish a goal of the provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law that required the disclosures, without putting U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage.

But companies have never shown strong evidence that disclosures would put them at a competitive disadvantage, or that other countries prohibit them, which is why new rules in the European Union will require full disclosures of such payments for companies listed on exchanges there, said Isabel Munilla, senior policy advisor for Oxfam America.

“The EU laws allow for no reporting exemptions as the evidence presented by companies was – and remains – unpersuasive that host country prohibitions exist,” Munilla said in a statement.

But the oil lobbying group said full disclosure was problematic.

Requiring U.S. companies to disclose specific payments to foreign governments could give an advantage in bidding for drilling rights to overseas companies not required to make such disclosures,  said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute.

Some countries, including China, Angola and Qatar, prohibit such disclosures, meaning that U.S. oil companies could not acquire new drilling rights in those places while complying with company-specific disclosure rules, Carroll said.

The lobbying group said in its letter that it  recently discussed the proposal with Securities and Exchange Commission officials.

The commission created rules that required individual company disclosures, but U.S. District Judge John Bates threw them out in July, saying that the individual disclosures “drastically increased the rule’s burden on competition and cost to investors.”

Carroll said the American Petroleum Institute’s proposal is in line with the stated goals of the Dodd-Frank provisions for oil and gas companies.

“The spirit of the law was to allow local populations to see how much the government was receiving for these resources and that’s exactly what our proposals that we sent to the SEC today would do,” Carroll said.