WASHINGTON— "Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM 0.65% has applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia in a bid to resume its joint venture with state oil giant PAO Rosneft, according to people familiar with the matter.
Exxon has been seeking U.S. permission to drill with Rosneft in several areas banned by sanctions and renewed a push for approval in March, shortly after its most recent chief executive, Rex Tillerson, became secretary of state on Feb. 1, according to one of these people. The company originally applied for a waiver to gain access to the Black Sea in July 2015 but its application wasn’t approved, the person said.
The waiver request is likely to be closely scrutinized by members of Congress who are seeking to intensify sanctions on Russia in response to what the U.S. said was its use of cyberattacks to interfere with elections last year. Congress has also launched an investigation into whether there were ties between aides to Donald Trump and Russia’s government during the presidential campaign and the political transition.
Mr. Tillerson during his time at Exxon forged a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Rosneft, a company that is critical to Russia’s oil-reliant economy.
Russia's Black Sea Frontier
Exxon is seeking a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia to drill with Rosneft in the Black Sea's Tuapse block.
The State Department is among the U.S. government agencies that have a say on Exxon’s waiver application, which was made to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to current and former U.S. officials.
Mr. Tillerson is recusing himself from any matters involving Exxon for two years, and won’t be involved with any decision made by any government agency involving Exxon during this period, a State Department spokesman said.
Before he became secretary of state, Mr. Tillerson said Exxon opposes sanctions when they aren’t applied in a uniform way. He testified during his confirmation hearings that neither he nor his former company ever lobbied against U.S. sanctions on Russia.
A spokesman for the Treasury Department said it doesn’t comment on waiver applications. An Exxon spokesman said the company wouldn’t discuss government deliberations on sanctions.
Russia’s oil resources have long been among the most sought-after prizes by U.S. and European oil companies, and multiple U.S. presidential administrations in both parties have worked to help them enter the country. As much as 100 billion barrels of oil is believed to remain untapped in the country, but many Western companies have been stymied in their attempts to reach those reserves, often by geopolitical risks..."