Cravath recaptures Shell as client for titanic battle with SEC

Shell has drafted in Cravath Swaine & Moore to fight off claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – although the firm helped write the report that led to the regulator’s probe in the first place.

Cravath, the embattled energy company’s long-term legal adviser, co-wrote the memorandum that forced Shell to establish ‘Project Rockford’ – the codename for the energy company’s review of its reserves.

This led to Shell cutting its reserves by 3.9 billion barrels from its proven reserves, and ultimately to the SEC probe.

Cravath has been drafted in to help Debevoise & Plimpton advise Shell during the SEC inquiry into two years of alleged overstatement of oil reserves.

In the memorandum of 2003, titled ‘script for Walter van de Viljer’ (chief executive of Shell’s exploration and production unit), Cravath advised Shell that it was legally obliged under SEC rules to “disclose at the same time and without delay” whether its publicised 2002 oil reserves were accurate. Not to do so constituted a violation of US securities law and opened up the possibility of claims from investors.

Here, the lawyers were referring to a part in the memorandum – not written by lawyers – which stated that there was an “assumption” that some of Shell’s 2003 and 2002 reserves were non-compliant with SEC rules.

This memorandum gave rise to the now infamous statement from Viljer calling for the destruction of the memorandum.

“This is absolute dynamite, not at all what I expected, and needs to be destroyed,” he wrote.

In turn, the memorandum led to Shell’s launch of Project Rockford and eventually its decision to cut its reserves.

Cravath’s involvement against the SEC will take some of the pressure off Debevoise & Plimpton, which is also defending Shell against investors. They claim massive losses because of dips in the energy giant’s oil prices arising from the calling in of the reserves.