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Exxon illegally fired two scientists suspected of leaking information to WSJ, Labor Department says

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ExxonMobil has been ordered to reinstate two scientists who were fired after being suspected of leaking information to The Wall Street Journal, the US Labor Department said on Friday.

A federal whistleblower investigation found the oil and gas giant illegally terminated the two data scientists in late 2020. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration also ordered ExxonMobil to pay back the two employees more than $800,000 in back wages, interest and compensatory damages.

An article in The Wall Street Journal last year claimed that ExxonMobil may have inflated production estimates and the value of oil and gas wells in the Texas Permian Basin, where much of US production is placed. The story examined the company’s assumption in 2019 SEC filings that drilling rates would increase significantly over the next five years.

Exxon denied the claims at the time, claiming it was hitting its drilling targets. “The claims about drilling rates are demonstrably false,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said.

The two unidentified employees “raised concerns about the company’s use of these assumptions at the end of 2020,” according to the Labor Department release. Exxon claimed it fired a scientist for “misuse of proprietary company information,” the Labor Department statement said said, and the other for “having a ‘negative attitude’, looking for other jobs and losing confidence in company management.”

In a statement to CNN Business, Exxon denied the allegations and said it will “defend itself accordingly.”

“The redundancies at the end of 2020 were not related to the adverse concerns raised by the employees in 2019,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson said.

Although none of the employees were identified as a source for the Journal’s story, OSHA learned that the company knew that one of the researchers was a relative of a source cited in the WSJ article and had access to the leaked information.

“ExxonMobil’s actions are unacceptable. The integrity of the US financial system depends on companies accurately reporting their financial condition and assets, said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.

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