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Two of the giant-est of the oil giants gave investors a look at their results today. Between them, Exxon Mobil and Chevron reported pocketing $18 billion in profit in the first three months of the year. That’s down from last year’s record profits following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But make no mistake, even though oil prices have softened of late, the business remains plenty profitable. And right now, that’s thanks in part to refining.
Exxon and Chevron have stakes in all three big chunks of the petroleum supply chain, according to Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group.
“There’s what we call upstream, where you’re drilling for crude oil in the fields,” he said. Then there’s midstream, which is the transport of that oil. And finally, downstream which is refineries heating it up, “and turning it into the products that consumers use every day.”
Exxon’s refinery business helped lead the company to its most profitable first quarter ever. Last month, it started up an expanded unit at a refinery in Texas. But that’s the exception since the pandemic started three years ago.
David Ruisard of the consultancy Argus Media said 2020 “was complete chaos,” and most people stopped driving and flying which left refineries with a big problem.
“They had to pay people to take crude off their hands at one point. And I think there was real concern about how long this would go on,” he said.
Since then, at least half a dozen major refineries have stopped producing gasoline. Industry observers say that’s why fuel prices have stayed high even as crude prices have fallen. Trey Cowan with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said Exxon and Chevron have done well as prices have slipped because they have stakes in refining and drilling.
“If oil prices are high, you’re making more money on that side,” he explained. “But when oil prices are low, then you’re making more money on the refining side.”
And the whole industry is looking at an increase in demand as more drivers hit the road this summer.
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