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National Oil Companies, with $3.1 Trillion in Assets, are Dangerously Under-scrutinized

  • Press release

  • 25 April 2019

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NEW YORK and LONDON, 25 April 2019—State-owned oil companies and their impacts on economies are misunderstood and merit greater scrutiny, a new report indicates.
Using the Natural Resource Governance Institute’s (NRGI) new open National Oil Company Database, researchers have shown that many state enterprises fail to disclose information critical to the oversight of public revenues.
National oil companies (NOCs) produce the majority of the world’s oil and gas. Companies in the database hold combined assets of more than $3.1 trillion. The ten largest, including Saudi Aramco and Mexico’s Pemex, together have more assets than the ten biggest international oil companies, including ExxonMobil and BP.
“The sheer amount of national wealth concentrated in these companies can contribute to a sense that they are ‘too big to fail,’ ” NRGI advisor Patrick Heller says. “The combination of massive economic influence and weak oversight can pose huge economic risks in many countries.”
Beyond the transparency problem, some national oil companies carry huge debts that burden their national economies. Some have debts in amounts higher than 10 percent of their countries’ GDP. Venezuela’s troubled state oil company PDVSA has debt exceeding 20 percent of GDP. Many NOCs have required multibillion-dollar government bailouts in recent years, becoming a costly drain on public finances.
The NRGI report finds that at least 25 countries are “national oil company dependent,” meaning that the NOC on its own collects revenues equivalent to more than 20 percent of the total revenue of the government. The fiscal health of many countries and their governments’ ability to use oil revenues for development depend heavily on how well the NOC is run, how much revenue it transfers to the state and the quality of its spending.
“In dozens of resource-rich countries, national oil companies are at the center of determining the quality of governance of their macroeconomy and of their natural resources, which belong to the people,” says NRGI president and CEO Daniel Kaufmann. “In these countries, improving governance is the development challenge of a generation, as subpar governance of their national resources perpetuates poverty and inequality.
“State-owned enterprises can weigh a country down or help propel development. Getting their governance right is crucial,” Kaufmann says.
In many countries, NOCs are not held sufficiently accountable, either because they don’t disclose enough information, or because formal oversight by government or informal oversight by civil society and the media is inconsistent. Under-scrutinized companies might perform poorly or become vessels for corruption. Increased transparency is a critical lever for holding company leadership accountable and encouraging strong returns on public investment.
“This new database should help demonstrate the power of information about national oil companies,” Heller says. “It can be a valuable tool for NOCs, governments and their citizens to understand how these companies manage public assets and liabilities, and to insist that they perform.”
For more information, contact:
Lee Bailey
Communications Director
Natural Resource Governance Institute
T +44 (0)20 7332 6114
M +44 (0)7823 442 954 
[email protected]
Max Brett
Communications Officer
Natural Resource Governance Institute
T +1 718 395 5179
M +1 917 545 0009
[email protected]
 Notes for editors:
  • NRGI’s National Oil Company Database, available at, provides the largest set of open data on NOC production, revenues, spending and transfers to government in the world, with more than 70,000 data points from 71 NOCs worldwide from 2011 to 2017.
  • The database is launched with two accompanying reports. One, titled simply The National Oil Company Database, details how the database was developed, provides an overview of major findings and discusses the implications for governments, NOCs and international actors. The other, Massive and Misunderstood: Data-Driven Insights into National Oil Companies, explored the analytical findings more deeply.
  • A free database that makes these data comparable across companies and countries is unprecedented. Many public interest actors are unable to afford access to existing proprietary databases.