As the public shells out for sky-high gas prices at the pump, major oil and gas company executives have been raking in cash as their company stocks soar, a new report finds.
Food and Water Watch has found that company stocks held by CEOs of eight large fossil fuel companies have increased in value by nearly $100 million just between January and mid-March — right around when gas prices skyrocketed as Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine.
CEOs of ExxonMobil and Cheniere have seen the largest gains, with the stocks of Cheniere’s Jack Fusco and Exxon’s Darren Woods increasing in value by $25 million. Steven Kean, CEO of major Texas-based oil and gas company Kinder Morgan, has seen his company stocks jump by almost $15 million.
Republicans have blamed Joe Biden for high gas prices, but there’s virtually nothing that Biden can do to affect gas prices. In reality, experts say that gas prices are largely due to oil and gas companies’ market manipulation, which is motivated by a desire to please shareholders. In the past weeks, gas prices have stayed high even as crude oil prices have dropped — thanks in part to Wall Street investors’ pressure to keep stock prices high.
As gas prices rose steadily last year, and large fossil fuel company stocks outperformed the stock market, oil and gas companies essentially admitted that they’re currently trying to win over shareholders. “We are working hard to win back investors,” Chevron’s chief financial officer Pierre Breber told the Financial Times in February. “This is a sector that has underperformed for 10 years, for five years, for three years.”
Indeed, oil and gas company stocks have risen precipitously over the past year, and have been making tens of billions of dollars in profits in a major upswing from 2020’s losses; in just the first nine months of 2021, top oil and gas companies made $174 billion in profits.
Oil and gas CEOs have been cashing in on these gains, Food and Water Watch found. ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance cashed out $23 million of stocks in February, while Chevron CEO Michael Wirth sold $14 million later that month.
Meanwhile, top companies have announced stock buyback programs totalling over $25 billion in the past year — enough money to heat over 33 million people’s homes over the winter, based on the projected average gas bill of about $750.
Lawmakers have proposed legislation to tax profits made by Big Oil as it exploits the crisis. Earlier this month, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) introduced a bill that would levy a tax on 2022 income that exceeds pre-pandemic profits; the legislation would then redistribute the revenue gained from that tax back to consumers.
This is an incredibly popular idea. Polling from last week found that 87 percent of voters think that lawmakers should take action against profiteering oil and gas companies, while 80 percent agree that a windfall tax on Big Oil would be beneficial to prevent companies from price gouging.
Food and Water Watch pointed out in its report that fossil fuel companies are also aggressively trying to lock in their dominance in the energy industry in response to the invasion of Ukraine. As Russia first launched its attacks, Fusco told investors that the company is going to be “opportunistic” in pursuing increases to drilling.
“This campaign to promote [liquid natural gas] in response to Ukraine is a cynical calculation by the dominant players in the industry,” the report reads. “They intend it to lock in long-term contracts that would create decades of additional fossil fuel dependence.”
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