Big Oil Reaps Massive First-Quarter Profits

This quarter’s $18.2 billion in profits certainly demonstrates that the big five oil companies can do without $40 billion in tax subsidies over a decade.

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The first anniversary of the BP fatal oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico reminded Americans of the enormous human and economic costs of our oil dependence. One year later, BP is posting first-quarter profits of nearly $5.5 billion. This 17 percent growth from 2010’s first-quarter earnings comes despite BP having distributed a mere 19 percent of the $20 billion it agreed to pay oil spill victims and their families.

The four other Big Oil companies—ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell—also enjoyed massive profits in the first quarter of 2011 compared to 2010 due to high oil prices. These four companies reported a combined $18.2 billion in first-quarter earnings—profits that together mark a 40 percent increase over last year. Exxon stood head and shoulders above the rest with a nearly 70 percent increase over 2010 first-quarter profits, clocking in at nearly $10.7 billion. Shell was a distant second with earnings listed at $6.9 billion.

Oil prices have risen by a third in just more than two months, spurred largely by speculators capitalizing on unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The jump in crude prices from $85 per barrel to $112 per barrel since January 2011 has boosted gasoline prices by 22 percent.

President Barack Obama warned in an April 26 letter to congressional leadership that "if sustained, these high prices have the potential to slow our economy’s growth at precisely the moment we need to be accelerating it."

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