Amid Record Profits, Big Oil Ignores Consumers, Climate
As financial results continue to roll in for 2022, oil and gas majors are recording record profits, doling out massive rewards to shareholders, remaining on the sidelines of the battle against inflation, and failing to invest in the energy transition.
The headlines have been a consistent parade: oil and gas companies raked in astonishing, record-breaking profits throughout 2022. Following up on our analysis of 15 oil and gas companies with operations in the U.S., we’ve modified this year-end update to look at just the six largest. The numbers are mind-blowing.
|Company Name||2022 Net Income||2021 Net Income||Change 2021 vs 2022|
To put those profits in context, consider the record-breaking Inflation Reduction Act, Congress’s landmark climate investment bill that will, over the course of 10 years, facilitate up to $370 billion in new investments meant to accelerate the clean energy transition. In just 12 months, these six companies have racked up profits that total nearly 50% of that 10-year investment.
When one considers who has the power and resources to drive global change, look here. Government investments certainly help, but these companies—who also happen to be responsible for the majority of current and historic climate pollution—have vastly more resources on hand to bring about positive change.
But we know that oil and gas companies have little interest in doing so. What have they prioritized instead this past year? Share buybacks and juicy dividends.
|Company Name||Stock Repurchases||Cash Dividends|
Using the IRA for comparison again, those buybacks and dividends--which represent earnings above and beyond this year's record profits--are equivalent to one full year of the climate law’s clean energy investments. It shows where these companies’ priorities lie: keeping their core, climate-busting businesses the overwhelming focus while showering shareholders with billions of dollars.
And it’s not as if the investor communications from these companies are trying to spin things any differently. ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips don’t even mention energy transition or renewable energy investments in their materials. They’ve decided, as climate change reaches dangerous tipping points, to just double down on oil and gas, as if climate change's acceleration and the global energy transition just aren’t happening.
Indeed, in recent days we saw ConocoPhillips cheer news from the Department of the Interior that its Willow Oil and Gas Project has moved one step closer to reality. That project, which would develop a massive new oil field in northern Alaska, is designed to produce hundreds of millions of barrels of oil for the next 30 years. Why are companies—with their shareholders' blessing—pouring money into projects like these that have no place in the global energy economy of the future?
Meanwhile, have any of these “big six” played a significant role in bringing down global energy prices? Again, the answer is no. On average, oil production from these six companies, for example, declined from 2021 to 2022, despite calls from global leaders for oil and gas companies to help rebalance the global playing field after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
|Company Name||2022 Production (bpd)||2021 Production (bpd)|
This year’s oil and gas profits make several things clear. First, taxpayer funded subsidies for this industry must end. Companies that bring in billions of dollars of profits in a single year simply don’t need the billions we have been doling out to them for the past century. Second, shareholders need to force these companies to begin acting responsibly in the face of climate change. Based on their financial disclosures, three of these six companies show no interest in diversifying their businesses or becoming what BP calls “Integrated Energy Companies.” That’s an astonishing failure of leadership that leaves these companies and their investors completely exposed to the rapid global changes occurring due to climate change. And third, if we want to truly achieve a secure, independent, and equitable energy system, we need to break free of the global stranglehold of these companies whose actions make clear that their first order of business is securing profits, even in the face of widespread consumer pain and rampant inflation.