If this figure represented a country’s GDP, it would rank 36th in the world, between Singapore and Chile.
Instead, $271 billion is the profit made in 2012 by companies involved in extracting, transporting, refining, distributing and trading in fossil fuels in the United States and Canada. Despite these massive profits, the fossil fuel industry continues to receive tens of billions of dollars in subsidies every year at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. While these companies reap their benefits, communities across the country suffer the impacts of climate change, oil spills and water contamination from fracking, drilling and mining.
This includes many foreign companies – like Shell and BP – that, although they do not earn the majority of their profits in North America, are major players in American and Canadian oil, gas and coal industries.
|Sector||2012 profits (million USD)|
|Coal mining||$ – 3,571.82|
|Oil & gas producers||$ 169,637.08|
|Oil & gas royalty trusts||$ 1,754.07|
|Oil & gas equipment & services||$ 30,545.98|
|Oil & gas refineries||$ 20,786.35|
|Midstream (natural gas)||$ 13,212.78|
|Midstream (other)||$ 5,576.79|
|Fuel sales & distribution||$ 2,027.68|
|Oil, gas & coal utilities||$ 26,897.80|
|Oil, gas & coal engineering & consulting||$ 2,963.22|
|Investment & trading||$ 1,590.88|
However, profits from major Chinese companies, including PetroChina and China National Petroleum Corporation, were not included despite their significant interests in Canadian tar sands because to date their North American activities make up a tiny share of their total profits.
The utility companies included for this analysis are natural gas utilities, as well as electric utilities and power producers that generate or purchase a major share of their electricity from oil, gas and coal. Similarly, only investment and trading firms that deal primarily with fossil fuel companies have been counted.
Because private companies are not required to disclose their financial information, a huge share of fossil fuel industry profits cannot be counted. Only nine out of 199 private oil, gas and coal companies reported profits in 2012. Profits for these nine companies totaled more than $20 billion, a tiny percentage of likely private fossil fuel company profits. Notably, Koch Industries (the second largest privately held company in the United States) profits are not included, though Forbes estimates the company’s annual revenue at $115 billion.
Many of these companies contribute millions of dollars in campaign finance to representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress, as well as to delegates and senators in State houses in key fossil fuel states around the country. This ensures that U.S. politicians represent the fossil fuel industry’s interests above those of the people that elected them. Fossil fuel industry lobbying expenditure and contributions to the U.S. Congress amounted to over $536 million in the 112th Congress (2011-12).