Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster—unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up.
Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation, The New York Times reports.
Whiting Petroleum, a major shale driller in North Dakota that sought bankruptcy protection in April, approved almost $15 million in cash bonuses for its top executives six days before its bankruptcy filing. Chesapeake Energy, a shale pioneer, declared bankruptcy last month, just weeks after it paid $25 million in bonuses to a group of executives. And Diamond Offshore Drilling secured a $9.7 million tax refund under the COVID-19 stimulus bill Congress passed in March, before filing to reorganize in bankruptcy court the next month. Then it won approval from a bankruptcy judge to pay its executives the same amount, as cash incentives.
The industry’s decline may be just beginning. Almost 250 oil and gas companies could file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next year, more than the previous five years combined, according to Rystad Energy, an analytics company. Rystad analysts now expect oil demand will begin falling permanently by decade’s end as renewable energy costs decline, energy efficiency improves, and efforts to fight climate change diminish an industry that has spent the past decade drilling thousands of wells, transforming the U.S. into the biggest oil producer in the world.
The environmental consequences of the industry’s collapse would be severe. Especially because it’s likely that many companies haven’t set aside enough money, as required by law, to restore well sites to their original state. Read the full story.