President Obama says he wants to end subsidies for what he calls “the fuel of the past,” but lucky for him oil and gas will be the fuels of the future too. His budget-deficit blowout would be so much worse without Big Oil, because the truth is that this industry is subsidizing the government.
Much, much worse, actually. The federal Energy Information Administration reports that the industry paid some $35.7 billion in corporate income taxes in 2009, the latest year for which data are available. That alone is about 10% of non-defense discretionary spending—and it would cover a lot of Solyndras. That figure also doesn’t count excise taxes, state taxes and rents, royalties, fees and bonus payments. All told, the government rakes in $86 million from oil and gas every day—far more than from any other business.
Not paying their “fair share”? Here’s a staggering fact: The Tax Foundation estimates that, between 1981 and 2008, oil and gas companies sent more dollars to Washington and the state capitols than they earned in profits for shareholders.
Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company, says that in the five years prior to 2010 it paid about $59 billion in total U.S. taxes, while it earned . . . $40.5 billion domestically. Another way of putting it is that for every dollar of net U.S. profits between 2006 and 2010, the company incurred $1.45 in taxes. Exxon’s 2010 tax bill was three times larger than its domestic profits. The company can stay in business because it operates globally and earned a total net income after tax of $30.5 billion in 2010 on revenues of $370.1 billion.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget—like its 2012, 2011 and 2010 vintages—includes a dozen-odd tax increases that would raise the industry’s liability by $44 billion over the next decade, according to the White House, and by $85 billion, according to the trade group the American Petroleum Institute (API). At any rate, the President’s economists ought to be weeping for joy for the revenue windfall from an industry that grew 4.5% in 2011, compared to overall GDP growth of 1.7%.
Crunching Compustat North America numbers, API estimates that the average effective tax rate for oil and gas companies is 41.1% for 2010—i.e., taxes as a share of net income. That is broadly in line with the Energy Information Administration’s estimates for “major energy producers.” By the same measure, other manufacturers on the S&P Industrial index pay an effective rate of 26.5%.
Specific oil and gas investments are also taxed at higher rates than other energy plays, which were surveyed in a 2009 paper by economist Gilbert Metcalf, now a deputy assistant Treasury secretary. He found that oil drilling (for an integrated company) clocks in at a 15.2% tax rate, refining at 19.1% and building a natural gas pipeline at 27%.