WASHINGTON–A bureaucratic delay in carrying out a rule requiring U.S.-listed companies to disclose payments to foreign governments for getting access to oil, gas and minerals has contributed to corruption in those countries and harm to investors at home, says a report by nonprofit Oxfam America.
At issue is the implementation of a key section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is approaching its fifth anniversary next week.
“That is five years of payments for oil projects without adequate transparency and citizen oversight. Five years of corruption and poverty in oil-rich countries. Five years with investors not having access to this critical data,” the report says.
The provision requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to the Securities and Exchange Commission for things such as taxes, permits and licenses needed for development overseas.
Oil production in developing countries including Angola, Nigeria, Indonesia, Sierra Leone is estimated to have generated approximately $1.55 trillion for such governments in the five years since Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, and much of it has flowed to governments with limited or no transparency, according to the report by Oxfam America, the U.S. branch of the international charity working to find solutions to poverty around the world.
The federal rule would also have “serious impact on investors and their bottom line,” said Isabel Munilla, Oxfam America’s senior policy advisor.
“Oil, gas and mineral development has destabilized a lot of countries,” Munilla said in a phone interview. Despite generating a lot of money, the development often leads to conflicts in local communities, where many remain poor despite the windfall, she added.
“And when communities protest to stop a mining or oil drilling project, the company can loose millions of dollars in a day,” Munilla said.
The report also indicates that American Petroleum Institute and 10 of its members have spent over $360 million on lobbying and political contributions in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014. Most notably among their efforts, was an oil industry lawsuit led by the API that resulted in the overturn of a “strong final rule” issued by the SEC in 2012.
The U.S law, when implemented, will “shine a light on payments made by more than 1,100 companies”, many of which constitute the world’s largest oil, gas and mining businesses, including Chinese and Brazilian state-owned companies, says the report.
In a March filing the SEC has indicated that it may not issue the new rule until spring of next year.
Oxfam has asked the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts to compel the SEC to finish the rule by the close of 2015. The court’s decision is still pending but “should come out any day from now,” said Munilla.
“With payments for oil and mining projects out in the open, citizens can demand their governments spend these funds in the communities where drilling is taking place – using it to fight extreme poverty and build roads, schools, and hospitals,” said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.
Facing aggressive lobbying and legal challenges by trade groups like the API and oil industry giants like Shell and Chevron, the SEC has already delayed its rule making “at least seven times,” Munilla said.
An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment on the report or the rule-making process.
The Dodd-Frank provision has inspired 30 countries to adopt similar laws and regulations requiring payment transparency of oil, gas and mining companies, the report says. As a result, U.S.-listed companies including Shell and BP, even though not yet required by the SEC to disclose payments, will soon have to do so as these companies are also covered by the European and Canadian regulations.
Not all companies in the oil, gas and mining industry oppose the disclosure rule. Oil companies including Statoil and Kosmos Energy have already begun disclosing their payment information. Statoil, an API member, has publicly distanced itself from the lawsuit against the SEC, the report says.