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Opinion

Analysis

U.S. gas prices are over $4 a gallon. These oil CEOs took home over $20M.

While gas prices soar for consumers, one group of people isn’t faring so badly.

Chief executives from the largest oil and gas companies received nearly $45m more in combined total compensation in 2021 as compared to 2020 amid the steep rise in gasoline prices across the U.S. over the last year, a new report states.

Twenty-eight major oil and gas companies, such as Shell, Exxon, BP and Marathon Petroleum, gave out $394m in total to their chief executives in 2021, according to an exclusive analysis provided to the Guardian.

Among the highest earners were Michael Hennigan of Marathon Petroleum, who received over $21m – $5m more than 2020 – and Darren Woods of Exxon, who received over $23m – $7m more than 2020.

These figures reflect the companies’ massive earnings, brought about largely by the boost in gas prices in the last year. Gas prices experienced a 50% rise in 2021, reaching the highest they have been since 2014. Fuel prices have only continued to climb, hitting an average of $4.12 a gallon in the past few months.

At Shell, chief executive and chief financial officer raises were made for their “significant personal contributions … in delivering the strategic progress of 2021”, said Curtis Smith, Head of Americas Media Relations at Shell, in an email to the Guardian. Shell’s boss, Ben Buerden, received a $2m raise in 2021.

Shell’s profits quadrupled and BP’s net profit rose to an eight-year high in 2021, while Exxon reported its highest profits since 2017 in the last quarter of 2021.

“Americans will not soon forget that when they were struggling to fill their tanks, oil and gas companies made record profits and decided to give that money to wealthy industry executives and shareholders rather than stabilizing gas prices,” said Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog Accountable, which produced the report.

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The oil industry has defended surging fuel prices on the grounds of a spike in crude oil costs, inadequate supplies for a sudden hike in fuel demand after a lull during the pandemic and, more recently, the Russia-Ukraine war.

The Biden administration has accused big oil of price gouging. The U.S. was actually a net exporter of petroleum in 2021, and also boosted overall crude production. At the same time, although crude oil costs dropped over the last month, prices at the pump across the U.S. still remained markedly high.

Consumer advocacy groups take a dim view of oil firms. “They are causing people to have to choose between putting food on the table and putting gas in the tank. And that’s a choice that people shouldn’t have to make,” argued Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

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