When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

14 August 2006

Really big oil

When activists, journalists and others speak of “Big Oil”, you know exactly what they mean: companies such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Royal Dutch Shell. These titans have been making lots of money for their shareholders; their bosses enjoy vast pay packets; and their actions affect us all. BP's decision to shut down Prudhoe Bay, America's biggest oilfield, to repair leaking pipes is a case in point, outraging many and pushing petrol prices even higher (see article).

Yet Big Oil is pretty small next to the industry's true giants: the national oil companies (NOCs) owned or controlled by the governments of oil-rich countries, which manage over 90% of the world's oil, depending on how you count. Of the 20 biggest oil firms, in terms of reserves of oil and gas, 16 are NOCs. Saudi Aramco, the biggest, has more than ten times the reserves that Exxon does. Those with misgivings about oil—that its price is too high, that reserves are running out, that it damages the environment, that it is more a curse than an asset for countries that produce it—must look to NOCs for reassurance.

Really Big Oil - The Economist, August 12-18 2006

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