World’s Largest Oil Companies Make $281 Billion in Profit


The five largest global oil firms have amassed earnings exceeding a quarter of a quadrillion dollars subsequent to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, which precipitated sharp rises in energy costs and household expenses.

According to Global Witness, the “super-majors”—BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies—have profited $281 billion, or £223 billion, since the conflict started in February 2022.

Since the conflict started, the UK-based companies BP and Shell have reportedly made a combined $94.2 billion, or £75 billion, in profits.

According to Global Witness, this would be sufficient to pay for all of Britain’s household electricity costs for a period of seventeen months.

With a renewed focus on high-profit oil projects this year, Shell, which has made $58.9 billion, or £47 billion, in profits since the second quarter of 2022, is also in the process of eliminating up to 330 positions from its low-carbon solutions arm.

According to the analysis, BP has gained $35 billion (£28 billion) in profits since the beginning of the conflict. Last year, the company took steps to reduce its climate targets.

In addition, the three main US and European corporations, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies, have achieved a combined profit of about $187 billion, or £148 billion.

“This analysis shows that, regardless of what happens on the frontlines, the fossil fuel majors are the main winners of the war in Ukraine,” said Global Witness’s senior fossil fuels investigator, Patrick Galey.

The profits of international shipping companies and foodstuff suppliers have also soared over the last two years, leading some economists to call for targeted price controls during an emergency.

Shell made a U-turn last summer on a pledge to cut oil production each year for the rest of the decade in a strategic shift to target fossil fuels and “reward our shareholders today and far into the future”.

The five super-majors are forecast to reward investors with record pay-outs of more than $100 billion (£79 billion) in 2023 when figures for the full financial year are published in the coming weeks, despite growing public outrage and criticism of the fossil fuel profit machine.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said companies were likely to pay shareholders even more this year despite weaker commodity market prices leading to lower profits.

The big oil companies enriched shareholders with dividend payments and share buy-backs worth $104 billion in 2022, according to the IEEFA.

“They are now spending their gains on investor handouts and ever more oil and gas production which Europe doesn’t even need and the climate cannot take.

“This is yet another way in which the fossil fuel industry is failing consumers and the planet,”said Galey

Last year was the hottest year on record by a huge margin, driving heatwaves, floods and wildfires, damaging lives and livelihoods across the world.

Analysis showed some extreme weather, such as heatwaves in Europe and the US, would have been virtually impossible without human-caused global heating.

Meanwhile, oil majors are not allowing high energy prices to lull them into a false sense of security, rankled by the memories of the historic oil price crash of 2020.

Oil majors are now hedging their bets by targeting new oilfields that can be profitable even at $30 per barrel oil, reflecting executives’ belief that high prices are anything but guaranteed.

“After three major oil price crashes in 15 years, there is wide acceptance that another one is likely to happen,” Alex Beeker, director of corporate research at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said.

Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum have struck deals worth a combined $125 billion to acquire companies with low-cost oilfields that can be profitable at $25 and $30 per barrel.

Lately, oil majors have preferred financing M&A deals using stock instead of cash because financing greenfield energy assets, especially in emerging markets, has become a challenging endeavour due to rising interest rates.

In Europe, Shell Plc and Equinor ASA are pursuing projects with $25-30 per barrel break-even, while France’s TotalEnergies has set an even more ambitious target to get production costs under $25.

These low costs are about half break-even level for oil projects just a decade ago, and are about 40 per cent of today’s Brent global oil benchmark. But these oil majors are betting that improved productivity of wells will continue.

In Nigeria, many of the international oil companies are leaving their onshore operations for deepwater drilling, due to oil theft, vandalism and community issues, which contribute to the unit cost of producing a barrel of oil.