>> Energy giant Exxon Mobil refusing to comment on whether it's seeking US government permission to drill in parts of the Black Sea banned by American sanctions targeting Russia. The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reporting Exxon had in recent months applied to the US Treasury Department for a waiver.
Reuters' energy correspondent Ernie Scheyder in Houston.>> The reason this report got so much attention is because the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, is now the US Secretary of State. Having a former executive in such an influential foreign policy position could, some fear, give Exxon a leg up, especially over its rivals, many of whom also want to operate in Russia.
>> Russia holds vast oil and gas reserves in the Arctic and Black seas, but US sanctions in place since 2014 have blocked American energy companies from drilling those resources. Tillerson has recently criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the two have a friendly history.>> In 2013, just after Exxon inked a joint venture deal with Rosneft, the state controlled oil company, Putin gave Tillerson the Russian Order of Friendship, meant to be one of the country's highest civilian awards.
It's worth noting that Exxon has asked for and received from the US Treasury Department, waivers in the past two years to operate in Russia. That joint venture with Rosneft has certain stipulations that must be honored. And to honor those, Exxon needed and received from the Treasury Department permission to do so.
>> The request from Exxon Mobil comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Russia over Syria policy. And allegations that Moscow interfered in the US election. Tillerson has promised to recuse himself from government decisions related to Exxon Mobil for his first year on the job.