SEC Proposes Additional Disclosures For Resource Extraction Companies

by Laura Anthony, Esq. on February 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

In December 2019, the SEC proposed rules that would require resource extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments or the U.S. federal government for the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals.  The proposed rules have an interesting history.  In 2012 the SEC adopted similar disclosure rules that were ultimately vacated by the U.S. District Court.  In 2016 the SEC adopted new rules which were disapproved by a joint resolution of Congress.  However, the statutory mandate in the Dodd-Frank Act requiring the SEC to adopt these rules requiring the disclosure remains in place and as such, the SEC is now taking its third pass at it.

The proposed rules would require domestic and foreign resource extraction companies to file a Form SD on an annual basis that includes information about payments related to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals that are made to a foreign government or the U.S. federal government.

Proposed Rule 

The Dodd-Frank Act added Section 13(q) to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) directing the SEC to issue final rules requiring each resource extraction issuer to include in an annual report information relating to any payments made, either directly or through a subsidiary or affiliate, to a foreign government or the federal government for the purpose of the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals. The information must include: (i) the type and total amount of the payments made for each project of the resource extraction issuer relating to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals, and (ii) the type and total amount of the payments made to each government.

As noted above, the first two passes at the rules by the SEC were rejected.  The 2016 Rules provided for issuer-specific, public disclosure of payment information broadly in line with the standards adopted under other international transparency promotion regimes. In early 2017, the President asked Congress to take action to terminate the rules stemming from a concern on the potential adverse economic effects.  In particular, the rules were thought to impose undue compliance costs on companies, undermine job growth, and impose competitive harm to U.S. companies relative to foreign competitors.  The rules were also thought to exceed the SEC authority.

The proposed rules make many significant changes to the rejected 2016 rules.  In particular, the proposed rules: (i) revise the definition of project to require disclosure at the national and major subnational political jurisdiction as opposed to the contract level; (ii) review the definition of “not de minimis” at both the project and individual payment threshold such that disclosure of a payment that equals or exceeds $150,000 would be required when the total project payments equal or exceed $750,000; (iii) add two new conditional exemptions for situations in which a foreign law or a pre-existing contract prohibits the required disclosure; (iv) add an exemption for smaller reporting companies and emerging growth companies; (v) revise the definition of “control” to exclude entities or operations in which an issuer has a proportionate interest; (vi) limit disclosure liability by deeming the information to be furnished and not filed with the SEC; (vii) permit an issuer to aggregate payments by payment type made at a level below the major subnational government level; (viii) add relief for companies that recently completed a U.S. IPO; and (ix) extend the deadline for furnishing the payment disclosures.

The proposed rules add a new Exchange Act Rule 13q-1 and amend Form SD to implement Section 13(q).  Under the proposed rules, a “resource extraction issuer” is defined as a company that is required to file an annual report with the SEC on Forms 10-K, 20-F or 40-F.  Accordingly, Regulation A reporting companies and those required to file an annual report following a Regulation Crowdfunding offering are not covered.  Moreover, smaller reporting companies and emerging growth companies are exempted.

The proposed rules would define “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” as exploration, extraction, processing, and export of oil, natural gas, or minerals, or the acquisition of a license for any such activity.  The proposed definition of “commercial development” would capture only those activities that are directly related to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals, and not activities ancillary or preparatory to such commercial development.  The proposed definition of “commercial development” would capture only those activities that are directly related to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals, and not activities ancillary or preparatory to such commercial development.  The SEC intends to keep the definition narrow to reduce compliance costs and negative economic impact.

Likewise, the definitions of “extraction” and “processing” are narrowly defined and would not include downstream activities such as refining or smelting.  “Export” would be defined as the transportation of a resource from its country of origin to another country by an issuer with an ownership interest in the resource.  Companies that provide transportation services, without an ownership interest in the resource, would not be covered.

Under Section 13(q) a “payment” is one that: (i) is made to further the commercial development of oil, natural gas or minerals; (ii) is not de minimis; and (iii) includes taxes, royalties, fees, production entitlements, bonuses, and other material benefits.  The proposed rules would define payments to include the specific types of payments identified in the statute, as well as community and social responsibility payments that are required by law or contract, payments of certain dividends, and payments for infrastructure.  Furthermore, an anti-evasion provision will be included such that the rules would require disclosure with respect to an activity or payment that, although not within the categories included in the proposed rules, is part of a plan or scheme to evade the disclosure required under Section 13(q).

A “project” is defined using three criteria: (i) the type of resource being commercially developed; (ii) the method of extraction; and (iii) the major subnational political jurisdiction where the commercial development of the resource is taking place.  As proposed, a resource extraction issuer would have to disclose whether the project relates to the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or a specified type of mineral.  The disclosure would be at the broad level without the need to drill down further on the type of resource.  The second prong would require a resource extraction issuer to identify whether the resource is being extracted through the use of a well, an open pit, or underground mining.  Again, additional details would not be required.  The third prong would require an issuer to disclose only two levels of jurisdiction: (1) the country; and (2) the state, province, territory or other major subnational jurisdiction in which the resource extraction activities are occurring.

Under the proposed rules, a “foreign government” would be defined as a foreign government, a department, agency, or instrumentality of a foreign government, or a company at least majority owned by a foreign government. The term “foreign government” would include a foreign national government as well as a foreign subnational government, such as the government of a state, province, county, district, municipality, or territory under a foreign national government.  On the other hand, “federal government” refers to the government of the U.S. and would not include subnational governments such as states or municipalities.

The annual report on Form SD must disclose: (i) the total amounts of the payments by category; (ii) the currency used to make the payments; (iii) the financial period in which the payments were made; (iv) the business segment of the resource extraction company that made the payments; (v) the government that received the payments and the country in which it is located; and (vi) the project of the resource extraction business to which the payments relate.  Under the proposed rules, Form SD would expressly state that the payment disclosure must be made on a cash basis instead of an accrual basis and need not be audited.  The report will cover the company’s fiscal year and will need to be filed no later than nine months following the fiscal year-end.  The Form SD must include XBRL tagging.

As noted above, the proposed rule includes two exemptions where disclosure is prohibited by foreign law or pre-existing contracts.  In addition, the rules contain a targeted exemption for payment related to exploratory activities.  Under this proposed targeted exemption, companies would not be required to report payments related to exploratory activities in the Form SD for the fiscal year in which payments are made, but rather could delay reporting until the following year.  The SEC adopted the delayed approach based on a belief that the likelihood of competitive harm from the disclosure of payment information related to exploratory activities diminishes over time.

Finally, the proposed rule allows a similar delayed reporting for companies that are acquired and for companies that complete their first U.S. IPO.  When a company is acquired, payment information related to that acquired entity does not need to be disclosed until the following year.  Similarly, companies that complete an IPO would not have to comply with the Section 13(q) rules until the first fiscal year following the fiscal year in which it completed the IPO.