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Major Oil Company Breaks with Trade Group Over SEC Disclosure Lawsuit

February 8th 2013

Oil Refinery

Norwegian oil-and-gas giant Statoil is distancing itself from petroleum industry litigation to scuttle Securities and Exchange Commission rules (SEC) that will force oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.

The multinational company’s position has delighted human-rights groups that back the rule, and activists are using Statoil’s stance to try and build support for the controversial regulation that’s required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law.

“Statoil has not supported the lawsuit initiated by [the American Petroleum Institute]; in fact, Statoil has explicitly withheld support for the litigation. As you know, we have not taken an active stand regarding the lawsuit, but chose to communicate our view on the new rule to the SEC, internally in the API and in other relevant fora,” the company said in a late January letter to the watchdog group Global Witness.

The American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two other groups filed in a lawsuit in October to overturn the rules that the SEC finalized in August. The business groups allege the rules will create costly burdens, violate companies’ First Amendment rights and place companies listed on U.S. exchanges at a disadvantage when competing overseas against Russian and Chinese companies that aren’t bound by the mandate.

The disclosure rule will force SEC-listed oil, natural-gas and mining companies to reveal payments to governments (including the U.S.) related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects.

It’s aimed at increasing transparency to help undo the “resource curse,” in which some impoverished countries in Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption and conflict alongside their energy and mineral wealth. Advocates of the rule are circulating the Statoil letter.

“We are encouraged to see a major oil company with global operations in such places as Angola, China and the United States refusing to support a lawsuit based on unsubstantiated claims,” said Ian Gary, senior policy manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program, in a statement.

Statoil has emphasized its support for transparency but has also expressed some concerns about the SEC rule that are, in some cases, aligned with other companies and industry groups that have challenged the measure aggressively.

In 2011 comments to the SEC when the rule was under development, Statoil called, for instance, for provisions that would allow exemptions from reporting payments if they aren’t allowed in a country where a company is operating.

The final rule did not provide such an exemption. Opponents have argued that such provisions would allow a “tyrant’s veto” of the rules by foreign governments.

“Although Statoil has expressed its concerns about elements of the 1504 law, the fact that an incredibly profitable company like Statoil chose to communicate their views about the law through regular fora, rather than a lawsuit, raises serious questions about claims being made by API,” said Isabel Munilla of the Publish What You Pay coalition.

Ben Geman writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.


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