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Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Big Oil Cries Foul Over Anti-corruption Efforts

A U.S. financial regulator dismissed a challenge from groups advocating on behalf of the petroleum industry who said transparency rules regarding payments made to foreign governments put them at a competitive disadvantage. U.S. lawmakers in 2010 supported rules to combat corruption overseas through tightened disclosure rules. The energy industry, led by the American Petroleum Industry, challenged the measure but came up empty handed.

U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in response to the economic recession brought on by the mortgage crisis in the late 2000s. A provision that grew out of the measure aims to tackle corruption overseas by requiring members of the so-called extractive industries to provide a detailed account of the payments they make to foreign governments.

The American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce led a challenge to the ruling, saying it put them at a competitive disadvantage in a globalized energy sector where state-owned energy companies may lack complementary safeguards. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, however, ruled against the industry by saying the Dodd-Frank measure wouldn't cause "irreparable harm" to their business interests.

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Justin Spickard, federal relations director at the API, stuck to the trade group's mantra of protecting American jobs, adding the measure would damage U.S. energy security "by making it more difficult for U.S. firms to gain access to resources abroad." Following the ruling, however, the API later said it was frustrated by domestic legislation after the International Energy Agency said the United States may pass Saudi Arabia in terms of oil output by the end of the decade. While stating that anti-corruption measures thwart overseas development, the API said the American energy "revolution" was an "unprecedented opportunity" for economic growth given the right policies.

Overseas, meanwhile, advocacy group Global Witness said it had "new information" that suggests Italian energy company ENI and Shell may have brushed up against the Dodd-Frank measure in a deal with the Nigerian government. Money there, said Global Witness, eventually found its way into the hands of Malabu Oil & Gas, a company controlled by former Nigerian Oil Minister Dan Etete, convicted of money laundering in a French court. Shell, in a statement sent to Oilprice, said it acted "at all times" in accordance with the law. 

"We are open and transparent about all payments to the federal government of Nigeria and how much they were," the statement read. ENI made similar claims.

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The SEC, in its ruling, described the challenge to Dodd-Frank legislation as "speculative." API and its supporters weren't able to demonstrate that anti-corruption measures were "either sufficiently certain or imminent to warrant a stay at this juncture." For his part, API's Spickard said the industry was "working hard" on transparency issues but was frustrated by foreign state-owned companies that "have no interest in transparency."

Global Witness, in its report, said its findings suggest there's an urgent need for more disclosure measures. In a global energy sector where billions of dollars changes hands, "something really stinks here."

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com


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