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Report: SEC Investigating ExxonMobil Over Asset Valuation

The Securities and Exchange Commission has initiated an investigation of ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) after an employee filed a whistleblower complaint last fall alleging the company overvalued some of its Permian Basin assets, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The dispute began after CEO Darren Woods said in early 2019 that the company would increase oil and gas production in its Permian Basin assets from 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over 1 million bpd. Some employees considered that to be an unrealistic target for those assets, according to the report.

Image source: Getty Images.

"No one I knew in the organization thought this was possible; the pressure to deliver on Woods's promise to the market permeated the organization," the report quoted the whistleblower as saying in the complaint.

Exxon acquired assets in the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian in 2017 for $6.6 billion. A year later, management valued the Delaware Basin at about $60 billion. The complainant said that after it took longer to drill wells than expected, some employees involved in the company's annual development plan in 2019 estimated the net present value of the area was closer to $40 billion.

The whistleblower alleged that the development manager of the area asked the employees to "claw back" some of the value by changing assumptions and being more optimistic in how fast the company could improve drilling times.

The employees pushed back, and at least one employee involved was fired last year, according to the report. The reason for the termination is unclear.

In a March 2020 investor presentation, Neil Chapman, head of Exxon's oil and gas division, said: "We're drilling more efficiently every month. If I thought that we were operating inefficiently, I will be the first to pull back."

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