General economic theory holds that companies will produce more of a good if its price is higher, or if it receives subsidies. Funny that these rules didn’t seem to apply to Big Oil in 2011, when the highest oil price since 1864 and $2 billion in subsidies to the five largest oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—yielded lower oil production than in 2010. But these five oil companies combined made a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011—up 75 percent from 2010—and have made more than $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011. This exceeds the previous record of $136 billion in profits in 2008.
Here are some more highlights from the big five’s activities in 2011:
- They produced 4 percent less oil and “oil equivalent” in 2011 compared to 2010.
- They spent a total of $38 billion, or 28 percent, of their profits to repurchase their own stock.
- They are sitting on more than $58 billion in cash reserves as of the end of 2011.
- They spent $1.6 million on campaign contributions and $65.7 million on lobbying efforts.
- For every $1 spent on lobbying in Washington, the big five received $30 worth of tax breaks.
CAP’s new column, "Big Oil’s Banner Year," digs a little deeper into this mystery to see why these companies are making more money while Americans see less oil and pay more at the pump.
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