Updated: Jul 6
Largest oil and gas producers made close to $100bn in first quarter of 2022
Oliver Milman Fri 13 May 2022 6-8 minutes
The tumult of war and climate breakdown has proved lucrative for the world’s leading oil and gas companies, with financial records showing 28 of the largest producers made close to $100bn in combined profits in just the first three months of 2022.
Buoyed by oil commodity prices that soared following the turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, major fossil fuel businesses enjoyed a bonanza in the first quarter of the year, making $93.3bn in total profits.
Shell made $9.1bn in profit from January to March, almost three times what it made in the same period last year, while Exxon raked in $8.8bn, also a near threefold increase on 2021.
Chevron upped its profits to $6.5bn and BP reveled in its highest first-quarter profits in a decade, making $6.2bn. Coterra Energy, a Texas-based firm, had the largest relative windfall of the 28 companies, with a 449% increase in profits on last year, to $818m.
The rocketing profits, at a time when inflation has surged in many countries, has prompted several of the companies to return billions of dollars to shareholders via share buybacks and dividends.
Guardian graphic. Source: Climate Power analysis of company earnings. Note: Profits are non-GAAP, meaning they exclude irregular or non-recurring expenses. Growth could not be calculated for four companies with negative Q1 2021 profits.
Ben Van Beurden, chief executive of Shell, said that the company’s performance “has been helped by the macro and the macro has been impacted by the war in Ukraine”. He added that this situation means “we do have a better company, we do have a better performance, and yes indeed our shareholders will benefit from that as well”.
Murray Auchincloss, BP’s chief financial officer, said in February: “Certainly, it’s possible that we’re getting more cash than we know what to do with.”
Climate campaigners, however, have called the profits “obscene” and argued that the provision of fossil fuels would not be so lavishly rewarding if governments had acted properly to confront the escalating climate crisis. “The greed of these companies is staggering,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power, an advocacy group.
“We’ve heard their executives bragging about how much the agony of inflation and the tragedy of the war in Ukraine has allowed them to raise prices. These profits are going right into their pockets.”
While the oil companies contend that they do not themselves set the global price of oil, the surge in profits is jarring given scientists’ warnings that the world should be rapidly phasing down its use of fossil fuels if it is to avoid unleashing catastrophic heatwaves, drought, sea level rise and other worsening consequences of the climate emergency.
The wealth of the oil and gas industry also highlights how there is still far more money flowing from the destruction of a livable climate than there is from efforts to maintain it.