They control the vast majority of the world’s oil and gas assets, yet the average person has never even heard of them, outside of those that are famous for things like getting attacked by missiles or becoming embroiled in a high-profile corruption scandal.
State-owned oil and gas companies (aka, the national oil companies, or NOCs) control at least US$3 trillion in oil and gas assets, compared to around $2.5 trillion as of 2017, and hold an estimated 90% of all known reserves–considerably more than publicly listed companies such as BP, ExxonMobil and Shell. Meanwhile, Saudi Aramco leads the pack as the world’s most profitable company.
That means that NOCs control about as much wealth as all U.S. billionaires or roughly twice the assets of global multilateral development banks.
If we go by annual revenue alone, China’s state-run Sinopec—explorer, producer, refiner, marketer and distributor—was the biggest oil and gas company in the world at the end of 2018. By net income, that title goes to Saudi Aramco, which reported net income in 2018 of $111.1 billion, compared to Sinopec’s $9.1 billion.
These numbers may seem a bit wild, but no one really ever knows where they come from or how they are derived.
By annual revenue metrics, by year-end 2018, four of the top 10 oil and gas companies in the world were state-owned: Sinopec, Aramco, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Russian Gazprom. The other six Top 10 titles went to Shell (4th), BP (5th), Exxon (6th), Total (7Th) Valero (8th) and Phillips 66 (10th). Related: The Best And Worst Oil Majors Of 2019
Despite their economic importance, most of these 71 NOCs are notoriously secretive–Norway’s Equinor being one of the few exceptions. For the remainder of the NOCs, their opacity poses a significant fiscal and governance risk, especially when they carry huge debts.
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