Global Talks Offer Chance To Improve US Extractive Industries Transparency

April 4, 2012

For decades, getting facts and figures about US extractive industries has been like pulling teeth. Now a multinational effort may eventually give frustrated environmental reporters a chance to improve the flow of information.

The Extractive Industries Tranparency Initiative involves some 35 nations in a bid to solve many complex reporting problems. And while it is meant partly to improve the flow of information across national borders, solutions can't even begin until individual nations can get a grip on accurate data about extractive industries within their own borders. At issue is data that could illuminate key environmental policy issues — but that today often clouds them in obscurity. Some examples:

  • Is the logging program in the US National Forests recovering its costs or being subsidized? That has long been a point of debate.
  • Are oil companies, whether US-based or multinational, paying fair taxes if the US discounts what they pay here to compensate what they pay foreign governments in royalties, taxes, and fees?
  • Can a US taxpayer or reporter get clear, open, up-to-date information about activity, production, and payments on oil leases on US lands onshore and offshore? Can US citizens even get access to the federal leasing database?
  • How do oil, gas, or mineral royalties collected by the US government compare with those collected by states, foreign governments, or private landowners?
  • Will the Interior Department's plan to require disclosure of ingredients in fracking fluids used on public lands actually work as planned? How will other nations handle fracking fluid disclosure?

The primary purpose of the initiative focuses on reporting of revenues, but those numbers are often a starting point for further analysis of environmental policies, since subsidies can not be evaluated without accurate revenue data. Right now, the US effort involves the White House, Interior, and the Departments of State and Treasury.

During March, the Interior Department held public "listening sessions" in St. Louis, Houston, Denver, and Washington, DC. In a Federal Register notice, Interior has also called for public comments on the program and asked organizations to declare interest in taking part in developing the US part of the program. The deadline for this initial round of comments is April 9, 2012.