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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Bankrupt Oil Companies Pay Huge Bonuses To CEOs

The oil price rout that sent several hundred U.S. oil and gas companies under seems to be largely over, and in a somewhat surprising turn of events, some chief executives of companies that filed for bankruptcy protection in the last two years are doing better than they did when oil traded at over $100 a barrel.

A Wall Street Journal analysis cites the CEO of Ultra Petroleum, for example, who received a portion of 7.5 percent of new shares, to be issued after the company emerges from bankruptcy protection. In absolute terms, this translates into about $35 million – a tenfold jump on Michael Watford’s annual salary in the pre-crisis years.

Another chief executive, Seventy Seven Energy’s Jerry Winchester, got a stock package of 440,000 shares that were worth $6.6 million when the company emerged from bankruptcy last August, which have now swelled to $16 million, thanks to the $1.76-billion acquisition of Seventy Seven by Patterson-UTI Energy.

According to analysts, the post-bankruptcy treatment of CEOs in the U.S. energy industry is not unusual. What’s unusual is the size of some of their compensations, clearly demonstrating the revitalizing effect that higher oil and gas prices have had on some industry players. Both those that filed for bankruptcy protection when the time was right, and those that missed the bankruptcy protection train, trying to hang on for as long as possible.

By the same token, the CEOs of Big Oil and those independent energy companies that survived without having to resort to bankruptcy filings are still doing very well. Some of them are even having their salaries increased thanks to the better price environment. Related: U.S. Threatens OPEC As Oil Exports Hit Record High

The chief executives of Anadarko, EOG Resources, Noble Energy, and Cabot Oil & Gas received a combined salary increase of $2.7 million last year. That’s despite the sub-$30 lows that West Texas Intermediate hit early in the year, reflecting the growing optimism throughout the rest of the year, supported by a gradual recovery in prices.

All in all, the senior management of most big oil and gas companies emerged from the price crisis not just unscathed, but also richer in many cases. Except BP’s Bob Dudley, that is.

Last year, amid oil prices of around $40 per barrel, close to two-thirds of BP’s shareholders voted against the remuneration report suggested by the company for its board. The vote surprised many given that it happened at one of the biggest oil companies in the world, but it clearly signaled that investors are not always too happy about CEO salaries, especially when the company is not doing as well as it could.

Another case in point was Schlumberger’s Paal Kibsgaard’s paycheck for 2015: he received total compensation of $18.3 million, down by just $200,000 from the previous year while Schlumberger laid off 25,000 employees and its share price shed 18 percent. But now, Schlumberger is recovering nicely with Kibsgaard at the helm, thanks to renewed demand for oilfield services in the U.S. and abroad. Related: Did The Banks Just Give U.S. Shale A Carte Blanche?

BP, apparently, is not doing so well. Sky News recently reported that in a bid to avoid another shareholder revolt at this year’s general meeting, the company decided to shave off around $6.24 million (GBP 5 million) from Dudley’s total compensation for the next three years. From now until 2019, he will be able to only earn 112.5 percent of his basic salary per year if the company’s performance targets are met, down from 150 percent.

So, even if oil and gas prices are nowhere near the highs from three or four years ago, it’s still good to be an energy CEO. For some, it’s even better than before.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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