Shell, Europe’s largest energy company, reported on Thursday its biggest ever quarterly profit, reflecting high prices for oil and natural gas spurred by the war in Ukraine and tightness in world energy markets.
The company’s adjusted earnings of $9.1 billion for the January-March period were almost triple the $3.2 billion it earned in the same period a year earlier.
Shell also said that it would increase the pace of share buybacks in the second quarter, to $4.5 billion, compared with $4 billion for the first quarter, and that it would raise the dividend by 4 percent, to 25 cents per share.
Beyond high energy prices, Shell took advantage of the volatility in the markets to rake in trading profits. It also cut costs deeply during the pandemic, enhancing profits now that prices and sales volumes have risen.
In a statement, Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, appeared to suggest that the disruption from the war in Ukraine had demonstrated that there was still a need for strong oil and gas businesses despite pressures to tackle climate change.
The war, he said, “has shown that secure, reliable and affordable energy simply cannot be taken for granted.”
On a call with journalists after the earnings announcement, Mr. van Beurden said that profits from oil and gas could be plowed into investments to help the shift to cleaner energy, noting that the company was working on several hydrogen projects.
Shell also wants to invest more in oil and gas in Britain’s North Sea, although Sinead Gorman, the chief financial officer, said the company had not changed its mind about declining to go ahead with the development of a controversial oil field in British waters called Cambodia. The project has been the target of environmental protesters in recent years.
Ms. Gorman said Shell wanted to move forward with an offshore natural gas field called Jackdaw that the British government has held up for environmental reasons.
Profiting from short supply in diesel and other refined products, Shell’s refining and chemicals units earned $1.2 billion for the quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2021.
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
Shell has that announced it is gradually withdrawing from oil and gas activities in Russia. On Thursday, the company said it was taking $4.2 billion in pretax write-offs on those businesses. The charges included $1.1 billion on the loan it extended to build the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which has now been blockedand $1.6 billion related to the company’s 27.5 percent ownership of a liquefied natural gas facility on Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East.
Mr. van Beurden also said that the company was winding down its purchases of Russian crude oil, refined products and liquefied natural gas. He said he thought that Shell could end most of such dealings by the end of the year. He said Shell had two small Russian contracts running into 2023 that could be stopped if legally required.
Responding to a question about a back channel for Russian oil, he also said that Shell had not participated in a reported practice by which Russian oil is blended with oil from other sources in order to create a fuel that can be sold as non-Russian. Mr. van Beurden did say that it was almost impossible to determine the origins of refined products like diesel or jet fuel created from Russian crude in another country like India, which is now buying large volumes of oil from Russia.
“We do not have systems in the world to trace back whether that particular molecule originated from a geological formation in Russia,” he said. Mr. van Beurden said that, under Western sanctions, when oil is substantially treated or changed it “loses its origin.” Therefore, “diesel going out of an Indian refinery that was fed with Russian crude is considered to be Indian diesel,” he said.
The surge in energy prices has produced bumper earnings for oil companies. On Tuesday, BPreported its highest profit in a decade, more than doubling the figure from a year before.