Natural Resources Extraction Transparency Initiative — a Ray of Hope or a Fog of PR?

February 13, 2013

What's all this about resources extraction transparency? The United States, whose Minerals Management Service simply neglected to collect in-kind offshore oil royalties under President Bush, has yet to prove itself a paragon. Yet now a new Interior Department committee is poised to lecture other countries on how to do it right.

Today, Wednesday, February 13, 2013, marks the first meeting of the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (USEITI) Advisory Committee.

The U.S. initiative is part of the broader global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Interior says the EITI is "designed to increase transparency, strengthen the accountability of natural resource revenue reporting." That means getting 37 or more nations to disclose information about payments they get from extraction companies and reconciling that with what companies say they pay. This might make bribes slightly harder to hide.

The U.S. Minerals Management (MMS) Service was already in deep scandal by the end of the Bush administration (it involved revenue collectors doing drugs and sex with oil company employees). But after the BP Gulf oil spill of April 2010, the winds of reform blew harder and Interior reorganized the MMS into several new agencies, with the hope of improving both safety and fiscal integrity.

But even since the reorganization was completed in September 2011, Interior remains opaque when it comes to public disclosure of leasing, drilling, production, and royalty information.

As of February 2013, neither reporters nor public can go online and get information about the status of particular offshore tracts leased by Interior — much less royalty payments to the government from oil and gas companies leasing them. Ironically, at least two private companies (IHS and Lexco Data System LP) sell some of this information. The Interior Office of Natural Resources Revenue does maintain a "data warehouse portal," but it apparently is only accessible to industry companies and access requires a partial non-disclosure agreement — something that makes it useless to journalists.


 

This is one of the stories in the February 13, 2013 issue of SEJ's biweekly WatchDog. Find the rest of the stories and past issues here.