Seven Sisters (oil companies)

"Seven Sisters" was a common term for the seven transnational oil companies of the "Consortium for Iran" oligopoly or cartel, which dominated the global petroleum industry from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. Alluding to the seven mythological Pleiades sisters fathered by the titan Atlas, the business usage was popularized in the 1950s by businessman Enrico Mattei, head of the Italian state oil company Eni. The industry group consisted of:[1][2][3]

The "Seven Sisters": Exxon (now ExxonMobil), Mobil (now ExxonMobil), Chevron, Gulf Oil (now Chevron), Texaco (now Chevron), BP and Shell.

Preceding the 1973 oil crisis, the Seven Sisters controlled around 85 per cent of the world's petroleum reserves.[4]

In the 1970s many countries with large reserves nationalized holdings of all major oil companies. Since then, industry dominance has shifted to the OPEC cartel and state-owned oil and gas companies in emerging-market economies, such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom (Russia), China National Petroleum Corporation, National Iranian Oil Company, PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrobras (Brazil), and Petronas (Malaysia). In 2007, the Financial Times called these "the new Seven Sisters".[2][5]

According to consulting firm PFC Energy, by 2012 only 7% of the world's known oil reserves were in countries that allowed private international companies free rein. Fully 65% were in the hands of state-owned companies.[6]

Composition and historyEdit

In 1951, Iran nationalized its oil industry, previously 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, several of which were daughter corporations of John D. Rockefeller's original Standard Oil monopoly.[7]

The head of the Italian state oil company (Eni), Enrico Mattei, sought membership for his company, but was rejected by what he dubbed the "Seven Sisters", the American and British companies that largely controlled the Middle East's oil production after World War II.[2][8] British writer Anthony Sampson took over the term when he wrote the book The Seven Sisters in 1975, to describe the oil cartel that tried its best to eliminate competitors and keep control of the world's oil resource.[1] The term for the oil cartel was further popularized, along with a fictional logo, in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, a 1981 film about apocalyptic fuel shortages.[9]

Being politically influential, vertically integrated, well organized, and able to negotiate cohesively 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:[2]

  • the increasing influence of the OPEC cartel (formed in 1960 and expanded steadily through 1975),
  • the 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 2017, the surviving companies from the Seven Sisters are BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, which form four members of the "supermajors" group.[10]

Original 7 sistersEdit

Company Country Details
Anglo-Iranian Oil Company   United Kingdom This company became BP. 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.[11] The smaller parts of Gulf Oil were acquired by BP and Cumberland Farms. A network of service stations largely 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 Co. of New Jersey (Esso) Became Exxon, which renamed itself ExxonMobil following the acquisition of Mobil in 1999.
Standard Oil Co. of New York (Socony) Became Mobil, which was acquired by Exxon in 1999 to form ExxonMobil.
Texaco Acquired by Chevron in 2001.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Sampson, Anthony (1975). The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-553-20449-1.
  2. ^ a b c d Hoyos, Carola (11 March 2007). "The new Seven Sisters: oil and gas giants dwarf western rivals". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  3. ^ "Business: The Seven Sisters Still Rule". Time. 11 September 1978. Archived from the original on April 13, 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  4. ^ Mann, Ian (24 January 2010). "Shaky industry that runs the world". The Times (South Africa). Archived from the original on January 27, 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  5. ^ Vardi, Nicholas (28 March 2007). "The New Seven Sisters: Today's Most Powerful Energy Companies". Seeking Alpha. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  6. ^ Allen, David (26 April 2012). "Why Should Bahamas Be In 7% Oil Minority?". The Tribune. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  7. ^ Beltrame, Stefano (2009). Mossadeq: L'Iran, il petrolio, gli Stati Uniti e le radici della Rivoluzione Islamica. Rubbettino. ISBN 978-88-498-2533-6.
  8. ^ "Italy: Two-Timing the Seven Sisters". Time. 14 June 1963. Archived from the original on February 13, 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  9. ^ Ohanesian, Liz (23 May 2016). "Mad Max–Style Rides Reigned at This Post-Apocalyptic Car Show". L.A. Weekly. Archived from the original on 2017-04-22. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  10. ^ Katakey, Rakteem (26 January 2017). "Oil Supermajors' Debt From the Crude Collapse May Have Peaked". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  11. ^ "Company Profile". Chevron. Retrieved 9 August 2011.

Further readingEdit

  • Ammann, Daniel. The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2009, ISBN 0-312-57074-0
  • Noguera, José. "The Seven Sisters versus OPEC: Solving the mystery of the petroleum market structure." Energy Economics 64 (2017): 298-305.
  • Sampson, Anthony (1975). The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shaped. New York: Viking Press. Expanded 4th edition 1991
  • Wood, Aaron D., Charles F. Mason, and David Finnoff. "OPEC, the Seven Sisters, and oil market dominance: An evolutionary game theory and agent-based modeling approach." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 132 (2016): 66-78. online