Exxon Mobil yesterday offered no comment on a media report that it was seeking permission from the US government to drill in several areas of the Black Sea, which were banned under US sanctions on Russia.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Exxon had in recent months applied to the US treasury department for a waiver to drill with Russian oil producer Rosneft. According to commentators, given that Exxon's former chief executive Rex Tillerson was now US secretary of state, any such request would draw attention.
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company did not comment on ongoing discussions with regulators, but pointed out that it had in the past been granted permission from treasury to continue with its joint venture with Rosneft despite the sanctions.
Annual shareholder disclosures showed that on three occasions in 2015 and 2016, Exxon was granted licenses allowing "limited administrative actions" in Russia.
Russia's annexation of Crimea and its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, had led the US and EU to clamp economic sanctions on the country in 2014. Exxon, wound down drilling in Russia's Arctic in 2014 following the imposition of sanctions. It was however, allowed to complete some drilling projects as the sanctions took effect.
Under the sanctions, technology transfers in Russian energy projects in the Arctic, Siberia, and the Black Sea was prohibited, as also dealings with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin.
During his presidential campaign, US president Donald Trump had advocated improving relations with Russia. After his election, analysts believed that sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine could be lifted, which possibly would have had major implications for energy.
However, the prospects of improved relations between Russia and the US had been dealt a blow recently after the US strike on Syria and the launching of an investigation into whether there were ties between Trump aides and Russia by Congress.