Summary of Interpretation No. 47

Accounting for Conditional Asset Retirement Obligations—an interpretation of FASB Statement No. 143 (Issued 3/05)

Summary

This Interpretation clarifies that the term conditional asset retirement obligation as used in FASB Statement No. 143, Accounting for Asset Retirement Obligations, refers to a legal obligation to perform an asset retirement activity in which the timing and (or) method of settlement are conditional on a future event that may or may not be within the control of the entity. The obligation to perform the asset retirement activity is unconditional even though uncertainty exists about the timing and (or) method of settlement. Thus, the timing and (or) method of settlement may be conditional on a future event. Accordingly, an entity is required to recognize a liability for the fair value of a conditional asset retirement obligation if the fair value of the liability can be reasonably estimated. The fair value of a liability for the conditional asset retirement obligation should be recognized when incurred—generally upon acquisition, construction, or development and (or) through the normal operation of the asset. Uncertainty about the timing and (or) method of settlement of a conditional asset retirement obligation should be factored into the measurement of the liability when sufficient information exists. Statement 143 acknowledges that in some cases, sufficient information may not be available to reasonably estimate the fair value of an asset retirement obligation. This Interpretation also clarifies when an entity would have sufficient information to reasonably estimate the fair value of an asset retirement obligation.

Reason for Issuing This Interpretation

Diverse accounting practices have developed with respect to the timing of liability recognition for legal obligations associated with the retirement of a tangible long-lived asset when the timing and (or) method of settlement of the obligation are conditional on a future event. For example, some entities recognize the fair value of the obligation prior to the retirement of the asset with the uncertainty about the timing and (or) method of settlement incorporated into the liability’s fair value. Other entities recognize the fair value of the obligation only when it is probable the asset will be retired as of a specified date using a specified method or when the asset is actually retired. This Interpretation clarifies that an entity is required to recognize a liability for the fair value of a conditional asset retirement obligation when incurred if the liability’s fair value can be reasonably estimated. Questions also arose about when sufficient information may not be available to make a reasonable estimate of the fair value of an asset retirement obligation. This Interpretation clarifies when an entity would have sufficient information to reasonably estimate the fair value of an asset retirement obligation.

How This Interpretation Will Improve Financial Reporting

Application of this Interpretation will result in (a) more consistent recognition of liabilities relating to asset retirement obligations, (b) more information about expected future cash outflows associated with those obligations, and (c) more information about investments in long-lived assets because additional asset retirement costs will be recognized as part of the carrying amounts of the assets.

How the Conclusions in This Interpretation Relate to the Conceptual Framework

FASB Concepts Statement No. 6, Elements of Financial Statements, states that “liabilities are probable future sacrifices of economic benefits arising from present obligations of a particular entity to transfer assets or provide services to other entities in the future as a result of past transactions or events.” The Board concluded that asset retirement obligations within the scope of Statement 143 that meet the definition of a liability in Concepts Statement 6 should be recognized as a liability at fair value if fair value can be reasonably estimated. The Board believes that when an existing law, regulation, or contract requires an entity to perform an asset retirement activity, an unambiguous requirement to perform the retirement activity exists, even if that activity can be deferred indefinitely. At some point, deferral is no longer possible, because no tangible asset will last forever (except land). Therefore, the obligation to perform the asset retirement activity is unconditional even though uncertainty exists about the timing and (or) method of settlement. The use of an expected value technique to measure the fair value of the liability reflects any uncertainty about the amount and timing of future cash outflows. The clarification of when an entity would have sufficient information to reasonably estimate the fair value of an asset retirement obligation should improve the relevance, reliability, and comparability of the amounts recognized in the financial statements.

The Effective Date of This Interpretation

This Interpretation is effective no later than the end of fiscal years ending after December 15, 2005 (December 31, 2005, for calendar-year enterprises).  Retrospective application for interim financial information is permitted but is not required. Early adoption of this Interpretation is encouraged.