Power Line: Shale CEOs win big when they lose — Oil’s rise and stall — BP’s deep cut

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A coal-fired power plant and a BP refinery beside a wind generator in Gelsenkirchen, Germany Martin Meissne/AP

Welcome to Power Line, a weekly energy newsletter brought to you by Business Insider.

Here’s what you need to know:


The corporate world continued reckoning with racism this week, as protests carried on and business leaders stepped down.

Remember, racial justice is very relevant to the energy industry, which is overwhelmingly male and white. That’s particularly true at the top…


Fracking CEOs earn millions even as their stocks dive

Let me start with a few stunning stats:

  • Shale oil CEOs, who are mostly white men, took home more than $US10 million each last year, on average.
  • Between 2014 and 2019, executive compensation among these companies rose almost 70%, according to the watchdog group Documented.
  • Why that’s surprising: In the same time period, an S&P shale ETF fell by roughly the same amount.

Two questions: (1) What am I doing with my life and (2) why are shale oil CEOs making so much money – even as their companies lose billions in market value?

The top earners:
We looked at the 8 highest-paid CEOs in the US shale industry.


A ‘no-fail situation’ for oil CEOs

Remarkably, even as companies head towards bankruptcy, their top execs can get big payouts.

  • Days before Whiting Petroleum filed for Chapter 11, its board approved a $US6.4 million cash bonus for its CEO.
  • In early May, Chesapeake Energy announced it would pre-pay $US25 million of executive bonuses, days before Bloomberg News reported that the natural gas giant was preparing a bankruptcy filing.
  • Neither company responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.

“If you’re an oil CEO, you’re kind of in a no-fail situation because you get compensated even if you don’t make any money,” Kelly Mitchell, senior analyst at Documented, told me.

What you need to know about the oil market rollercoaster-I mean, recovery

It was a week of whiplash. On Tuesday morning, we reported on the recovering price per barrel. By the afternoon, we wrote that Goldman Sachs was expecting the price to fall – and then it did.

So what’s what?

The rise: Oil gained value faster than most Wall Street analysts expected.

  • In May, US crude oil posted its sharpest monthly gains ever. Today, it’s up more than 15% since mid-March.
  • OPEC+ extended its record supply cuts through July, but the recovery is mostly about rising demand for fuel. Apple data suggest people are driving a lot more.
  • Demand could fully recover by the end of 2021, Morgan Stanley analysts say.
  • Some US producers are taking shuttered oil wells back online as a result of the recovery.

The stall: The rally that sent prices surging has stalled as concerns of a second coronavirus outbreak mount.

  • Oil prices are on track to fall for the first week in about two months.
  • Good job, Goldman Sachs! The Wall Street bank predicted this earlier in the week.
  • Goldman analysts said fear of a second outbreak, an enormous oil surplus, and an uncertain future of demand would cause the price to fall in the “coming weeks.”
  • The bank went as far as to call reversing well shut-ins “premature.”


BP froze layoffs for 3 months. Now it plans to cut 10,000 workers.

It might have come as good news when BP announced a three-month layoff moratorium back in March, amid the oil market meltdown. But any assurance quickly dried up on Monday, when the London-based company announced that it would cut about 10,000 workers.

  • BP’s chief said it costs about $US22 billion a year to run BP, and more than one-third of that budget is allocated to personnel.
  • “The oil price has plunged well below the level we need to turn a profit,” he said in a memo published on LinkedIn. “We are spending much, much more than we make – I am talking millions of dollars, every day.”

Key details: The cuts will disproportionately impact senior-level office roles and most will take place before the end of the year.

  • The company also said it’s lifting a freeze on pay increases and promotions, but that it won’t pay bonuses this year.

Will Shell follow suit? BP’s cut followed a similar move by Chevron, reported in late May. Bloomberg reported that Shell is offering voluntary severance for at least some staff, but it’s not yet clear what the extent of its cuts will look like.

4 great reads on the intersection of energy and racial justice

This week’s top stories

  • Big study. The US can achieve 90% clean energy by 2035 affordably, according to a new study from UC Berkeley and GridLab.
  • Solar growth. The solar industry is set to install a record amount of solar energy this year, even as the coronavirus stalls the residential sector, according to research by Wood Mackenzie and SEIA.
  • Tesla’s competitor.Shares of the electric truck maker Nikola Motors surged this week. At market close on Tuesday, Nikola was more valuable than Ford, CNBC’s Pippa Stevens reports.

That’s it! Have a great weekend.

– Benji

Ps. I grew a thing! This is a radish. Its shape is perfect.

Benji Jones radish
A radish. Benji Jones/Business Insider