Politics and economics are substantially swayed by business, and the oil and gas industry is one of the largest industries in the world. In fact, in 2019, the oil and gas sector was the largest in the world in terms of revenue. Once controlled by a few supermajors, the energy industry is increasingly influenced by the emergence of more state-owned entities, as well as the entrance of other smaller players. Even with the shrinking availability of oil and discussions of “peak oil” surfacing, there are still over 200 oil and gas companies in the world, and the energy industry still holds sway of much of global politics. The oil and gas sector also factors in employment, supporting over ten million jobs in the United States alone. Bringing in massive streams of revenue, a few players dominate this international market in terms of cash flow.
Sinopec is the number one oil and gas player in terms of global revenue. The second largest company in the entire world, Sinopec, at a revenue of roughly $415 billion, is overshadowed only by Wal-Mart. Established by the Chinese government in July 1998 from the former China Petrochemical Corporation, Sinopec’s investments and operations are funded and controlled by Beijing, and their business extends through upstream, midstream, and downstream operations, with its total number of gas stations ranking second across the globe. Deeply involved in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – an international development strategy involving investments in over 150 countries around the globe – Sinopec has significantly expanded its reach by investing heavily in African oil infrastructure. With strategic alliances with large domestic companies in Sudan, Algeria, Angola, and Nigeria, Sinopec manages operations in offshore drilling as well as engages in new exploration across the continent, having a presence in 17 African countries and an established influence in the region. Sinopec owns ten wholly-owned subsidiaries and operates in roughly 60 countries from Canada to Venezuela and Russia. Adding 84 million tonnes of proven oil reserve, 169 million tonnes of probable reserve, and 200 million tonnes of possible oil reserve alongside record natural gas production in 2018, Sinopec is represented on international stock exchanges in Hong Kong, Shanghai, London, and New York.
Royal Dutch Shell
One of the original supermajors, Shell is the transnational venture of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Combining the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and the Shell Transport and Trading Company in 1907, Shell’s revenues today feature on the Fortune Global 500 at almost $400 billion. Employing over 86,000 people and operating in over 70 countries, Shell is responsible for Russia’s first offshore gas project, the Sakhalin-2, as well as in control of the world’s first and second deepest oil and gas projects in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell’s first deep-water project in Gumusut-Kakap contributes almost 150,000 barrels of oil per day to Malaysian oil production, while its operations off the coast of Norway supply roughly 20 percent of the natural gas used in the United Kingdom. It also controls around 260,000 acres of prime oil field in the Permian Basin. Nearly doubling its production between 2017 and 2018, Shell is one of the first energy companies to use artificial intelligence to streamline its drilling operations. As of 2018, Shell has expanded its exploration acreage by 17 new blocks in Brazil, Mauritania, and Mexico, and produces the energy equivalent of over 3.6 million barrels of oil per day.
China National Petroleum
Established ten years before Sinopec, the China National Petroleum Corporation is the sole controlling shareholder of PetroChina – the largest domestic Chinese oil and gas producer accounting for almost two thirds of China’s output and following closely on the heels of Royal Dutch Shell in terms of revenue as of 2019. PetroChina, like its sibling rival Sinopec, runs comprehensive operations through all sectors of the industry from extraction though refining. State-owned and overseen by China’s Assets Supervision and Administrative Commission, CNP and PetroChina control ten oil and gas regions in the Chinese mainland and output almost two million barrels per day. Beginning its international development in 1993, China National Petroleum operates in over 30 countries with three global operation hubs, including development deals with the Iraq Ministry of Oil in relation to the Al-Ahdab Oilfield – holding one billion barrels of oil and 750 billion cubic feet of natural gas – and a 30-year agreement with Qatar. CNP, additionally, earns revenue from its capital management, finance, and insurance services that it offers to its global partners. With its 1.5 million employees and recent discoveries in the oil fields of South Sudan expected to hold 300 million barrels of reserves, China National Petroleum is the fourth largest company in the world.
Producing ten percent of the world’s oil, Saudi Aramco is not only the biggest individual oil producer in the world, but also the world’s most profitable company. Employing just 76,000 people, Saudi Aramco is the crown jewel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and is known, according to Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, as “the company that runs a country.” “Saudi Aramco is at the heart of not just politics, but economy and life in Saudi Arabia,” says Bin Javaid (Al Jazeera, 2019). While its revenues rank lower than Royal Dutch Shell, in terms of net income Saudi Aramco outpaced British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, Chevron and Total combined, bringing in $111.1 billion in net income in 2018. (For comparison, Royal Dutch Shell’s profits the same year stood at $23.91 billion.) The company’s much-anticipated initial public offering was slated at $1.7 trillion dollars, dwarfing the previous world record of $25 billion from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s market debut in 2014. Formerly known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, its history began in 1933 with a deal between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil that saw the birth of the Arabian American Oil Company – from which the company gets the Aramco name – and finished with Saudi Aramco as its own entity after the purchase of controlling interest in 1988. Operating in upstream and downstream segments, Saudi Aramco is the state-owned prize of the Saudi royal family and most notably of the emergent Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Aramco manages the country’s 336 billion barrels of reserves, the second largest in the world, with a maximum sustained capacity of 12 million barrels per day.
Through many iterations, British Petroleum came first from the Burmah Oil Company as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, then the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, until its last and most recent rebranding as BP. Garnering $303 billion in yearly revenue, BP is the seventh largest company in the world as of 2019, with operations across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and North and South America. Its reserves span almost 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent over 78 countries. Headquartered in London, BP is also infamously known for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – the largest in history – and for its controversial relationship with Russia over the course of the decade since. One of the original supermajors, British Petroleum remains in its position as a global energy leader with joint ventures in Arctic exploration and a large stake in upstream projects in conjunction with Russia’s Rosneft, the world’s second-largest individual oil producer after Saudi Aramco. With 33 offshore rigs, BP produces about two million barrels per day. A major force in biofuels, British Petroleum is also the second-largest player in Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol industry. Through its 11 sites employing over ten thousand people, BP plans to export 1,200 gigawatt hours of biopower to the national grid through the project’s more than two billion litres of ethanol equivalent. Demand for ethanol and other forms of alternative energy are predicted to grow rapidly in the next ten years, and BP has likewise reintroduced its slogan in recent years to represent “Beyond Petroleum,” suggesting its interest, though sometimes inconsistent, in pursuing alternative energy strategies.
One of the largest standing giants of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Exxon Mobil is still one of the largest companies in the world over one hundred years later. It is also one of the largest publicly traded oil and gas companies, evolving from a regional marketer of kerosene to an international behemoth in both energy and chemical manufacturing. Highly vested in consumer products – similar to BP and Shell – with a recognized name in gas stations, gas cards, motor oil, and fuel, Exxon Mobil also operates natural gas, heavy oil, and deepwater projects in six continents. Alongside recent findings in Guyana, Exxon Mobil’s Banyu Urip oil field in Indonesia produces over 200,000 barrels of oil per day, while the company holds an extensive global position in liquified natural gas. Through its agreements in Qatar and Papua New Guinea, Exxon Mobil opened operations in the North Field – the world’s largest non-associated natural gas field – and controls the largest-ever investment in Papua New Guinea in the form of a liquid natural gas facility producing over 19 million tonnes of liquid natural gas. Meanwhile, its plans to continue development along the U.S. Gulf Coast are slated to add tens of thousands of jobs through a new $20 billion investment over the next ten years. Like BP, Exxon has had its share of disaster. The 1989 oil spill that occurred from its Exxon Valdez tanker spilling 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound made it responsible for the largest oil spill in history until the explosion, 21 years later, of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig.
Another major player in liquid natural gas along with Exxon and Shell, Total S.A. is the second largest leader in LNG with an approximately ten percent global market share. With over 100,000 employees operating in more than 130 countries, Total holds major assets in Nigeria through its acquisition of Engie’s upstream portfolio, as well as contracts in Russia for liquid natural gas production totaling up to 19.8 million tonnes per year – equivalent to 535,000 barrels of oil per day. Created in 1924 as a French venture, Total merged with French Elf Aguitaine and Belgian Petrofina to form yet another oil major in 1999. Seeking to become “the responsible energy major,” Total has invested in biofuels as well as extensively in solar programs, while Total’s oil and gas output simultaneously still rivals that of its competitors, at 2.7 million barrels per day. Total’s operations along the entire energy supply chain and output in oil as well as petrochemicals, polymers, and electricity afford it a diverse position with over 14,000 service stations worldwide. Its growing revenues place it 20th in the world according to the 2019 Fortune Global 500.
The last oil major in the top 30 largest companies globally, Chevron takes the 8th spot among the largest energy producers in the world. Another of the original “Seven Sisters,” its corporate merger of the then-Standard Oil Company of California with Gulf Oil in 1984 was the largest in the world at the time. Acquiring Texaco – another of the Seven Sisters – in 2000, as of 2018 it was the second-largest integrated energy company headquartered in the United States. Significantly vested in shale and other U.S. operations, Chevron’s use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to access tight oil in the Permian Basin yielded year-over-year growth of 71 percent from 2018 to 2019. Advancing its projects in the Gulf of Mexico and its major operations in 28 countries around the world, Chevron’s upstream explorations include heavy oil, deepwater, and liquid natural gas in addition to conventional oil and natural gas. Chevron has also become adept at utilizing its newer technologies to access remaining resources in mature oil fields. As one of the largest private producers of oil and gas in Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Indonesia, and operator of multiple service station brands under its umbrella, Chevron employs more than 48,000 people with revenues of approximately $158 billion as of 2018.
The world’s most influential players in the energy industry, the exact rankings of the globe’s oil titans may frequently change year to year through increased revenues from the use of new technology, new discoveries, or mergers and acquisitions. Their positions as oil majors, however, along with the political and economic influence that come with it, remain largely the same, as they have for many through more than a century.
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BP. (2019). “BP Worldwide.” British Petroleum.
Chevron. (2019). “Chevron Worldwide.” Chevron.
CNPC. (2019). “China National Petroleum Corporation.” CNPC.
Exxon. (2019). “Exxon Mobil Global.” Exxon Mobil.
Fortune. (2019). “Fortune Global 500.” Fortune.
Saudi Aramco. (2019). “Saudi Arabian Oil Company.” Saudi Aramco.
Shell. (2019). “Shell Global.” Shell.
Sinopec. (2019). “Sinopec Group.” China Sinopec.
Total. (2019). “Total.” Total.