New global energy payments index may get boost from SEC

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A new Revenue Watch Index that measures disclosure about oil industry payments in 41 countries may soon have access to a gusher of details about what publicly traded companies are paying for production rights.

A provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law orders the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue regulations carrying out the law’s mandate for energy and mining companies to annually disclose taxes, royalties, license fees, production entitlements, bonuses, and other payments linked to commercial development. Companies must identify the business unit that made the payments, the government that received the payments, and the specific project, according to the law.

“The new U.S. law will greatly increase the volume and detail that is available about the payment stream because it will cover payments to governments in all countries where the affected companies operate,” says Karin Lissakers, director of Revenue Watch Institute, which developed the new index. “It also requires project-by-project reporting, so there will be a significant increase in the overall disclosure of these payment streams, which will tell us a lot about what the countries are receiving.”

To compile the new index, Revenue Watch and Transparency International compiled public statements and disclosures by 41 governments about the money received for oil, gas, and minerals production. Transparency is crucial, they argue, to prevent government corruption and encourage accountability in how energy and mining revenue is used to promote economic development.

Brazil ranked No. 1 in government openness about energy management, followed by Norway, Russia, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Peru, Azerbaijan, and Ecuador, according to the index. The United States was No. 10.

At or near the bottom of the index were Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Ghana, and Saudi Arabia.

The two non-profit groups plan to update the index in 2012, by which time the new SEC regulations should be in place for all publicly traded companies that submit financial reports to the agency, which includes two dozen of the 30 largest oil companies operating internationally. By law, the SEC must finalize the regulations by next July, but it faces considerable opposition from the energy industry.

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