The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation of Exxon Mobil Corp. after an employee filed a whistleblower complaint last fall alleging that the energy giant overvalued one of its most important oil and gas properties, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several people involved in valuing a key asset in the Permian Basin, currently the highest-producing U.S. oil field, complained during an internal assessment in 2019 that employees were being forced to use unrealistic assumptions about how quickly the company could drill wells there to arrive at a higher value, according to a copy of the complaint, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
At least one of the employees who complained was fired last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Journal previously reported that there had been internal disagreements over the valuation.
The SEC began investigating the claims after receiving the complaint, people familiar with the matter said. The current status of the investigation is unknown. A SEC spokesman declined to comment.
Exxon spokesman Casey Norton declined to comment on the existence of an investigation. He said that if asked by authorities about the 2019 assessment, Exxon would provide information that shows Exxon’s actual performance exceeded the drilling estimates. Mr. Norton also said Exxon doesn’t comment on employees’ performance.