Seven Sisters (oil companies)
"Seven Sisters" was a term coined in the 1950s by businessman Enrico Mattei, then-head of the Italian state oil company Eni, to describe the seven oil companies which formed the "Consortium for Iran" cartel and dominated the global petroleum industry from the mid-1940s to the 1970s. The group comprised Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP); Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), Texaco (later merged with Chevron); Royal Dutch Shell; Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso/Exxon) and Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) (trading as Mobil now part of ExxonMobil).
Prior to the oil crisis of 1973, the members of the Seven Sisters controlled around 85 percent of the world's petroleum reserves; but since then, industry dominance has shifted to the OPEC cartel and state-owned oil companies in emerging-market economies, such as Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), China National Petroleum Corporation (China), Gazprom (Russia), National Iranian Oil Company (Iran), Petrobras (Brazil), PDVSA (Venezuela), and Petronas (Malaysia).
Composition and history
In 1951 Iran nationalized its oil industry, then controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP), and Iranian oil was subjected to an international embargo. In an effort to bring Iranian oil production back to international markets, the U.S. State Department suggested the creation of a "Consortium" of major oil companies. The "Consortium for Iran" was subsequently formed by the following companies:
- Anglo-Persian Oil Company (United Kingdom): This company subsequently became Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and then British Petroleum. Following the takeover of Amoco (which in turn was formerly Standard Oil of Indiana) and Atlantic Richfield by British Petroleum, the name was shortened to BP in 2000.
- Gulf Oil (United States): In 1984 most of Gulf was acquired by SoCal and the enlarged SoCal entity became Chevron. The smaller parts of Persian Gulf Oil were acquired by BP and Cumberland Farms. A network of service stations in the northeastern United States still bears the Gulf name.
- Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands/United Kingdom)
- Standard Oil of California (SoCal) (United States): Became Chevron in 1984 when SoCal acquired Gulf Oil.
- Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso) (United States): Subsequently became Exxon, which renamed itself ExxonMobil following the acquisition of Mobil in 1999.
- Standard Oil Co. of New York (Socony) (United States): Subsequently became Mobil, which was acquired by Exxon in 1999 to form ExxonMobil
- Texaco (United States): Acquired by Chevron in 2001.
The head of the Italian state oil company, Enrico Mattei sought membership for the Italian oil company Eni, but was rejected by what he dubbed the "Seven Sisters" - the Anglo-Saxon companies which largely controlled the Middle East’s oil production after World War II. British writer Anthony Sampson took over the term when he wrote the book The Seven Sisters in 1975, to describe the shadowy oil cartel, which tried to eliminate competitors and control the world’s oil resource.
Being well-organized and able to negotiate as a cartel, the Seven Sisters were initially able to exert considerable power over Third World oil producers. However, in recent decades the dominance of the Seven Sisters and their successor companies has been challenged by the following trends:
- the increasing influence of the OPEC cartel (formed in 1960),
- a declining share of world oil and gas reserves held by OECD countries and
- the emergence of powerful state-owned oil companies in emerging-market economies.
As of 2010, the surviving companies from the Seven Sisters are BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, which form four members of the "supermajors" group.
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