Exxon Mobil blocking US progress on energy transparency: Watchdog chief

The Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, seen in this file photo taken Sept 15, 2008.
The Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, seen in this file photo taken Sept 15, 2008. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Exxon Mobil Corp is hindering a push for transparency in the energy sector by refusing to share US tax information as promised, a global watchdog said on Monday (Dec 7).

The rebuff by Exxon may "endanger US compliance" with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), said Ms Clare Short, who leads the programme.

Exxon was one of 30 energy companies that failed to share US-specific tax information for a report released last week by EITI, which audits payments made by companies for drilling or mining.

Exxon spokesman William F. Holbrook responded in an e-mail on Monday that "it was deemed premature to report US income taxes" before a US Securities and Exchange Commission meeting on disclosures due on Friday.

The SEC is expected to outline how energy companies can satisfy a provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms by reporting what they earn from each plot of land they lease.

Several EITI board members said on Monday nothing stands in the way of Exxon and the other energy firms sharing tax information while the SEC deliberates.

"These companies can disclose whatever they want," said Mr Neil Brown, who sits on the US EITI board and was an aide to former Republican senator Richard Lugar.

By supporting EITI, energy companies and resource-rich nations may boast that they uphold global transparency standards.

Exxon has had a place on the EITI board for nearly a decade. Exxon's refusal to share tax information is out of step with its commitment to openness, said Mr Daniel Kaufmann, president of the Natural Resources Governance Institute.

"It's totally inconsistent," said Mr Kaufmann, who faulted Exxon at an October EITI board meeting.

Ms Short said President Barack Obama extended US support to EITI in 2011, but the group cannot complete its work before Exxon and others share their tax payments.

"We expect board members to lead by example," she said in a statement to Reuters.

The US corporate income tax rate is 35 per cent but few multinational companies pay that because of many tax breaks and subsidies.