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ICAS report on IAS 37 and decommissioning liabilities

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Dec 10, 2020

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) released a report examining the application of IAS 37, "Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets" in accounting for the costs of decommissioning and clean-up operations in polluting industries, including oil and gas, mining and utilities.

IAS 37 mandates that the future cost of clean-up be estimated and accounted for using an appropriate discount rate to calculate the present value of these costs. However, the standard does not mandate for businesses to disclose the rate they have used, nor makes clear whether the basis for calculating the discount rate should be an accounting choice.

The ICAS research used a large international sample across the mining, utilities, and oil and gas sectors, and found substantial variations exist in companies’ choice to disclose the discount rate when accounting for decommissioning and environmental liabilities. Furthermore, the research notes that when a company with a decommissioning liability becomes insolvent the clean-up liability remains attached to the asset, which may therefore become less attractive to a potential buyer, and so, if eventually the asset remains unsold, the taxpayer ends up picking up the decommissioning tab. ICAS points out that this scenario is likely to be more frequent in a post-COVID world.

The report arrives at two recommendations:

  • Standard setters should require disclosing the discount rates applied to facilitate comparability and thus allow for users of financial statements and other key stakeholders to see inside the ‘black box’ of accounting for decommissioning liabilities; and
  • Preparers should include, and auditors demand, enhanced disclosures, to include not only the discount rate but also undiscounted future estimated cash flows and timing of decommissioning activities, augmented by a comprehensive narrative on the major uncertainties surrounding these items.

Review the report Black Box Accounting: Discounting and disclosure practices of decommissioning liabilities on the ICAS website.

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