Exxon Mobil bilks the world for record profit
Forty billion dollars. That’s 40 with nine zeros — $40, 000,000,000.
Whichever way I write it, this sum is inconceivable to me.
Does anyone really know what $40 billion means?
Oprah Winfrey, worth $1.4 billion in 2006 as the world’s 562nd richest person, according to Forbes magazine, probably couldn’t imagine being 30 times richer.
Christy Walton, heir of Wal-Mart and the world’s 17th richest person with $15.9 billion, probably can’t conceive of how many more impoverished children or desperate adults she would have to exploit to pocket 40 per cent more. (Although she probably has paid someone to find out.)
Maybe only Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the richest man on Earth with a personal worth of $50-billion, and the second richest man, Warren Buffett, an old American investor worth $42-billion, know the meaning of $40,000,000,000.
I can’t even fathom what $1 billion looks like or what it could buy, let alone $40 billion.
What about a corporation?
I bet Exxon Mobil, the sixth-largest company in the world and the largest of all oil companies, knows exactly where $40 billion positions it in terms of its goals for global domination.
This week the company announced it cracked the $40-billion profit mark for the first time with its 2006 earnings, making it the largest annual profit ever by an American company.
It topped its own record of the previous year — $36 billion.
Financial reporters quoted financial analysts who had financial gobbledygook to say about it.
“In a falling commodity environment the mix has remained remarkably resilient,” said one such analyst. The “challenge ahead” will be to reap even more profits in 2007, and even more in 2008, and so on, and so on… Until we are re-mortgaging our houses so we can drive to work and the whole world is at war.
But the real question is how far away is Exxon from holding us hostage by becoming the only petroleum company on Earth?
Exxon Mobil made $40 billion in profits on a total revenue of $377.6 billion — a rate of more than a billion dollars a day — on oil and gas production, transportation and supply.
In 2006, it had 45 refineries in 25 countries capable of producing 6.4 million barrels per day.
It supplied refined products to more than 35,000 service stations in 100 countries. It was the fuel supplier to 680 airports and 220 ports.
Since Exxon bought Mobil in 1998, it has been at the top of its game.
Not far behind are rivals Royal Dutch/Shell Group, born out of a 2005 merger, and BP, which take seventh and eighth places among the world’s largest companies.
And 2006 was also a year for Exxon to celebrate putting its biggest court battle to rest.
After nearly 18 years of fighting, on December 22, a three-judge panel slashed $2 billion from the original $4.5 billion in punitive damages awarded by a jury and upheld by a district judge for the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska.
Exxon’s supertanker, since renamed the Sea River Mediterranean, ran aground while under the command of its drunk captain and spilled 11 million barrels of crude oil.
Lodged in everyone’s memory from that event is the image of helpless waterfowl locked in coats of black sludge. The spill contaminated more than 1,900 kilometres of shoreline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals.
A US-government study released last month says lingering crude from the spill has dissipated only slightly.
An estimated 85 tonnes of oil remain at Prince William Sound, declining only by about four per cent per year and even more slowly in the Gulf of Alaska, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
At that rate, oil could persist for decades below the surface of some beaches along the gulf, the report says, and continue hurting foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shorebirds.
A few other things happened in 2006, the year Exxon Mobil pickpocketed its workers and gas-dependent consumers out of $40-billion in cash.
In October, 2006, US senators Olympia Snowe and John D. Rockefeller IV wrote a letter to the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation demanding it stop funding the campaign to deny global warming, citing evidence that it is the primary funder of “29 climate change denial front groups….”
In May, 2006, activists from a coalition of environmental and public-interest groups called on ExxonMobil shareholders to clean up the corporation’s “dirty practices,” including conspiring with the President George W. Bush’s government to invade Iraq to gain cheap access to oil reserves.
In March, 2006, a District of Columbia judge agreed to hear a case against Exxon Mobil by Indonesian plaintiffs for wrongful death, battery, assault and arbitrary arrest, stating in his decision that the US has a vital interest in the behaviour of its citizens, “particularly its super-corporations conducting business in one or more foreign countries.”
The Indonesians accuse Exxon of hiring military units of the Indonesian national army, which have killed, raped and tortured villagers while providing “security” for Exxon’s gas extraction and liquefaction project in Aceh, Indonesia.
Exxon is further accused of providing the military with equipment to dig the mass graves employed cover the evidence.
Yes, 2006 was a busy year for Exxon Mobil. But back to my question: How does Exxon understand $40 billion?
I fear that it knows the number all too well. Not unlike the self-made Oprahs and Bills of the world who have conquered their fields and now dominate the media and high-tech industries, Exxon knows how a far a few billion ‘wisely’ spent will go towards global domination.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.