Big Oil's Record Profits Loom Over Climate Pledges

Big Oil's Record Profits Loom Over Climate Pledges

Oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell posted a combined $46 billion in record earnings  this quarter. Over the past three months, Exxon Mobil made $18bn in profits, while Shell and Chevron each made nearly $12bn. At the start of the COVID pandemic, oil prices tanked, then steadily rose. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted an all-out surge, lining Big Oil’s pockets while consumers pay the price.

The oil industry continues proving its resilience time and time again. A recent study showed that for the past 50 years it has been steadily growing, making profits of more than $1tn a year, close to $3bn a day. And it’s not slowing down any time soon.

"Higher energy prices are here to stay," oil industry analyst Andy Lipow told NBC. "Gasoline prices are coming down -- and we may even see the the national retail average fall to $4 gallon in October -- but we’re not returning to $3 or $2.50 or even less, in a pandemic, when demand was down 20% or 30%. These companies are going to remain quite profitable.”

Channel 4: BP triples profits after spike in oil and gas prices, August 2, 2022.

Source: The Guardian, July 21, 2022.

Source: Oil Change International, March 2022.

CBS: Gas prices continue to drop across the US, July 12, 2022.

Why This Matters

Rich countries have to completely phase out oil and gas production by 2034 if there’s any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Further, research findings say that 40% of fossil fuels available for extraction from existing oil and coal fields must remain untouched to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Continued investment in fossil fuels is so harmful to the planet that UN Secretary-General called it “delusional.”

Euronews: UN Secretary-General says the climate crisis is placing half of humanity in 'the danger zone,' June 14, 2022.

But the industry’s showing no sign of slowing down. The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies have 195 new oil and gas projects in development, each of which could emit up to 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide throughout its lifetime. We’re already seeing the effects -- this summer’s dangerous heat, hitting as high as 116.6 degrees F in Portugal on July 14 and 104 degrees in the UK last Tuesday, is directly linked to warming caused by decades of high-emissions activities.

DW: Banks increase funding for fossil fuels despite 'net-zero’ pledges, February 15, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to BBC World News about the heatwaves, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

DW: Floods, drought and the consequences of extreme weather, July 16, 2022.

Leaving Cash On The Table

Record-high prices along with record-high earnings are a dangerous duo. They incentivize Big Oil to keep pumping and keep earning, a model it's grown quite accustomed to, despite the outcome. While a clean energy transition may be a revolutionary and lucrative move, providing the best outcome for most people, the fossil fuel industry can see money on the table right now, and it’s proving to be too hard to walk away from.

In 2020, BP CEO Bernard Looney committed to becoming “net zero” by 2050, making the company the first oil giant to do so. But instead of veering toward renewable energy, he voted to cut oil and gas production by 40% by 2030. Now, this year’s energy crisis is undermining these commitments. When oil was about $85 a barrel, Looney described the company as a “cash machine,” and current prices are even higher, at $104 a barrel. Analysts expect headline pre-tax profits of $11.9 billion this quarter.

To put it in context, BP CFO Murray Auchincloss said the company had “more cash than we know what to do with.

Channel 4: Huge profits but oil giant admits to paying zero tax in North Sea, February 8, 2022.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

TED: How to Realistically Decarbonize the Oil and Gas Industry | Bjørn Sverdrup, March 3, 2022.