US Congress Passes Law to End Secrecy in Oil, Gas, and Mining Industry

Disclosures of payments from companies to governments will aid fight against corruption

International humanitarian organization Oxfam America commends the US Congress for making disclosure of payments from oil and mining companies to governments around the world a legal requirement.

Included as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed by the House and Senate, this historic measure will increase financial transparency in the oil, gas, and mining industry and help reduce the corruption, mismanagement, and conflict that are too often associated with natural resource extraction booms.

"Congress has made an unprecedented commitment to financial transparency and good governance in a sector that not only affects American wallets, but also some of the most vulnerable communities around the world," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

"Secrecy of oil, gas and mining company payments to governments fosters government corruption and violent conflict in resource-rich countries that are home to more than half of the world's poorest people. Instability in these regions poses a long-term threat to national security, foreign policy, and economic interests in the United States."

The language included in financial services reform measure was based on the Energy Security through Transparency Act (S. 1700), a bipartisan Senate bill championed by Senators Lugar (R-IN) and Cardin (D-MD). The new law creates a low-cost, uniform transparency method for oil, gas, and mining companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and covers more than 90 percent of internationally operating oil companies and many of the top international mining companies.

Companies will be required to publicly disclose payments for the extraction of oil, gas, and minerals on a country-by-country and project basis as part of financial statements that are already required by the SEC. This not only includes American companies but also many foreign companies, such as Shell and BP, as well as companies from emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil, and Russia.

"This provision is a critical part of the increased transparency and corporate responsibility that we are striving to achieve in the financial industry. Given the catastrophic events in the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies, in particular, should well understand that secrecy fosters instability, corruption and greater risk," said Senator Cardin. "We now have the tools to help people in resource-rich countries hold their leaders accountable for the money made from their oil, gas and minerals."

"Too often, oil money intended for a nation's poor ends up lining the pockets of the rich or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments," said Senator Lugar when he spoke in favor of the measure when it was offered as an amendment to the Senate financial reform bill in late May. (The Cardin-Lugar amendment was co-sponsored by Senators Durbin (D-IL), Schumer (D-NY), Feingold (D-WI), Merkley (D-OR), and Johnson (D-SD).) He added: "This 'resource curse' affects us as well as producing countries. It exacerbates global poverty which can be a seedbed for terrorism, it empowers autocrats and dictators, and it can crimp world petroleum supplies by breeding instability."

"We applaud Senators Cardin and Lugar for spearheading this effort in the Senate that will both level the playing field for oil, gas, and mining companies and help citizens hold their governments accountable for using revenues for economic development and poverty reduction. We also thank Senator Leahy for offering the measure during the House-Senate conference process and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank for his early leadership on transparency in the oil and mining industries and for his support for this measure that demonstrates US commitment to transparent business practices and accountable governance," said Offenheiser.

"Passing this law sets up an international standard for the public disclosure of natural resource revenue information, but its effectiveness will be determined by strict implementation by lawmakers and development of effective implementing regulations by the SEC. Companies should heed the call for transparency so citizens of resource-rich countries can begin to use this information to hold their governments accountable for using revenues to address essential services like healthcare, education, and job creation."

Oxfam America calls on the SEC to quickly undertake its rule-making process to implement this important measure as Congress intended. "Oxfam America and its allies in the Publish What You Pay campaign will be closely following the rule-making process to ensure this groundbreaking disclosure measure is quickly put in place," said Offenheiser.

Read more

Download the report: Lifting the Resource Curse: How poor people can and should benefit from the revenues of extractive industries

Oxfam's work on Natural Resources

Notes to editors

The provisions were derived from the bipartisan Senate bill, the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (S. 1700) introduced in September 2009.

Contact information

Maura Hart, +1-202-496-1196, +1-202-476-0093 (m) or mhart@oxfamamerica.org