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Evidence Undercuts Oil Companies' Argument That Disclosures Would Violate Foreign Laws

As we’ve noted, oil companies have been lobbying against a provision in Dodd-Frank that would require them to disclose their payments to foreign governments. Some have argued that the rule would conflict with some host countries’ non-disclosure laws.

Statements from other oil companies, however, run counter to that assertion, Reuters reported this week.

Take Angola, for instance. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main lobbying group, told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Cameroon, China, Qatar and Angola [PDF] all specifically prohibit disclosure of such payments.

“If the Commission does not provide an exemption from disclosure when prohibited by foreign law,” the trade group wrote, “the Commission will force these companies to either withdraw from these projects or violate foreign law.”

But Reuters notes that Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it knew of no payment disclosure prohibitions in any of the 29 countries in which it operates, including Angola. And Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, is already making payment disclosures as required by Norwegian law. It disclosed last week that it paid about $590 million to Angola last year.

Susan Maples, co-author of "Contracts Confidential"—a report on confidentiality clauses in foreign oil, gas and mining laws—also called the industry’s claims into question [PDF]. Her research with Columbia Law School and Revenue Watch, a group that advocates for greater transparency in the energy sector, found that while many foreign laws require confidentiality pertaining to “geology, operational processes, trade secrets, personal information of employees, and proprietary information,” none explicitly prohibited disclosure of payments.

Some of the laws were “sufficiently vague” so they could be construed to bar payment disclosures, she acknowledged, but none do so explicitly and many do the opposite—they explicitly mandate payment disclosure.

Reuters also noted that the mining industry—to which the rule also applies for companies listed with the SEC—has expressed less opposition to the proposed rule, with some companies saying that compliance could boost the industry’s image.

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