European oil giants report ‘obscene’ profits as millions face deadly energy crisis

"We are sleepwalking into a life-or-death winter for so many people, but the government refuses to listen to us."

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SOURCECommon Dreams

European oil giants Shell and Total reported massive profits Thursday as sky-high energy prices fuel a devastating cost-of-living crisis across the continent, with families struggling to afford heat and electricity as the winter months approach.

Shell, one of the biggest oil companies in the world, posted $9.5 billion in global third-quarter profits—more than double the $4.2 billion it reported during the same period last year. The United Kingdom-based corporation also announced plans to reward shareholders by buying back $4 billion worth of its stock and boosting its dividend by 15%.

“We are sleepwalking into a life-or-death winter for so many people, but the government refuses to listen to us.”

The Financial Times reported that “despite lower average crude prices compared with the second quarter, Shell benefited from a strong operational performance from its deepwater oil assets, particularly in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the recovery of significant ‘high-value barrels.'”

France-based TotalEnergies, meanwhile, reported $9.9 billion in profits, up $4.77 billion compared to the third quarter of 2021. The firm announced “a one-off salary bonus to staff to reflect its bumper profits,” according to Reuters.

Banner earnings reports from Europe’s two largest oil companies sparked fresh calls for a windfall profits tax that would return money to households being hammered by an energy cost spike stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine, which fossil fuel giants have exploited to raise prices and pad their bottom lines.

“The announcement of yet another obscene profit for Shell shows the scale of the pain that these companies are inflicting on the public,” said Freya Aitchison, an oil and gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland. “While oil companies continue to make record-breaking profits, ordinary people are facing skyrocketing energy bills and millions are being pushed into fuel poverty.”

On Twitter, Greenpeace U.K. asked, “How many more households need to be forced into fuel poverty before the government properly taxes oil and gas giants?”

During Thursday’s earnings call, Shell executives said the company has thus far been able to avoid paying the U.K.’s existing windfall tax as its large investments in oil and gas development efforts in the country offset its profits there.

But Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told investors that “we should be prepared and accept that… our industry will be looked at for raising taxes in order to fund the transfers to those who need it most in these very difficult times.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the U.K. Trades Union Congress, said Shell’s profit report is “obscene—especially at a time when millions are struggling with soaring bills.”

“The government has run out of excuses,” O’Grady added. “It must impose a higher windfall tax on oil and gas companies. The likes of Shell are treating families like cash machines.”

As for Total, AFP reported that the company’s “bumper earnings may add fuel to the raging debate over what the French call superprofits by energy firms due to the spike in prices thanks to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

“France’s opposition wants to impose a windfall tax to help fund measures to protect consumers from energy price hikes, but President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his opposition to such a measure in a prime-time television appearance on Wednesday evening,” the outlet noted.

Clémence Dubois, the lead France campaigner at 350.org, said in a statement that “Total is adding more fuel to the fire by celebrating another round of shameful profits.”

“The refiners’ month-long ongoing strike in France demanding a fair pay rise spotlights the present socio-economic model, a model that exhausts people and the planet,” said Dubois. “The intensifying climate impacts we all experience and the rise of poverty across our communities due to soaring fossil fuel prices is no accident, it is the manifestation of the unlimited greed of Total and the fossil fuel industry.”

Much of Europe is facing a cost-of-living crisis driven by high energy prices, which have sparked widespread anger and mass demonstrations against insufficient government action.

As the BBC pointed out Thursday, the U.K. government is “limiting gas and electricity bills through the Energy Price Guarantee scheme, but instead of lasting for two years as originally planned, it will now end in April.”

“There have been warnings typical household gas and electric costs could reach more than £4,300 when support is scaled back,” the outlet noted.

A recent survey found that millions of Britons have resorted to skipping meals to make ends meet.

Fuel poverty kills thousands of people each winter in the U.K., but anti-poverty campaigner Steve Burak wrote in a blog post for Greenpeace earlier this week that he has “never seen things get as bad as they are now.”

“Skyrocketing energy bills are at the absolute heart of this cost-of-living crisis. With an estimated seven million households across Britain in fuel poverty this winter, the scale of this crisis is terrifying,” Burak continued. “We are sleepwalking into a life-or-death winter for so many people, but the government refuses to listen to us.”

“Instead,” he added, “they listen to their own voices and the voices of major fossil fuel companies by protecting their obscene profits.”

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