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The Seven Sisters Oil Companies

Company Name

Situation as of 2009

British Petroleum BP
Gulf Oil Chevron
Royal Dutch Petroleum/Shell Oil Royal Dutch Shell
Socony ExxonMobil
Standard Oil of California Chevron
Standard Oil of New Jersey ExxonMobil
Texaco Chevron

The term “The Seven Sisters” in reference to oil companies was coined by Enrico Mattei, the chairman of ENI, Italy’s state oil company. He used the term to refer to the group of oil companies, which, through joint ventures, virtually controlled the industry. As Daniel Yergen writes in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Prize:  The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991), “Mattei’s overriding objective [as head of ENI] was to ensure that ENI—and Italy—had its own international petroleum supply, independent of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ companies. He wanted to share in the rents of Middle Eastern crude. He loudly and continually attacked the ‘cartel,’ as he called the major companies, and he was credited with coining the term ‘Sette Sorrelle,’ the Seven Sisters, in derisive reference to their close association and multiple joint ventures…Actually there was an eighth sister, the French national champion, CFP, which was in both Iranian consortium, with the Seven Sisters, and the Iraq Petroleum Company, along with Jersey, Socony, British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch/Shell.  But since CFP did not fit under the rubric of ‘Anglo-Saxon,’ Mattei conveniently dropped it. His real complaint against this exclusive club of major companies was not its existence, but rather that he was not in it” p. 503.

The term "The Seven Sisters" originated in Greek Mythology to refer to the daughters of Atlas and Pleione in Greek Mythology. It is also used to refer to a star cluster in Astronomy, a group of women's colleges in the United States, as well as a group of women's magazines published in the United States.

How It's Used

"'We want to make Lukoil the biggest oil company in the world--both in production and profits,' the dapper, 45-year-old Alekperov tells FORBES. 'The seven sisters now have a brother.' And the oil industry has produced its most towering figure since Calouste Gulbenkian--Mr. Five Percent."

—Paul Klebnikov, "The seven sisters have a baby brother," Forbes, January 22, 1996.

"But Pearlman and the fossil-fuel exporters were not nearly as effective as the misleadingly named Global Climate Coalition. It sounds like an environment-friendly group, but its membership includes the 'Seven Sisters' (oil giants Shell, Texaco, Exxon, British Petroleum, Amoco, Chevron and Mobil), plus Ford and General Motors, Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide, the Air Transport Association, and other big energy users like the aluminum industry."

—Gwynne Dyer, "Fear starts to spawn action on greenhouse effect," The Toronto Star, July 23, 1996.

"Mr Rich learnt capitalism at the knee of his father, who became a millionaire by setting up an agricultural trading firm and importing jute after emigrating with his family from Belgium to the United States in the early 1940s. Mr Rich began his career at Philipp Bros, then the world's top commodities trader. Posted to Madrid in the 1960s, he discovered he could bypass the 'Seven Sisters' oil companies that dominated world oil supply and invented spot oil trading. He is said to have made huge profits for Phibro, now part of Salomon Inc, when he and Mr Green anticipated the huge price increases imposed by Opec in 1973."

—James Bone, "Clinton's final act is 'beyond a pardon,'" The Times (UK), January 26, 2001.

"In the 1960s, the so-called Seven Sisters oil companies, including Exxon and Mobil, controlled most of the world's oil reserves. Today, state-owned companies, like Saudi Aramco, hold the vast majority of these reserves, while other resource holders like Russia and Venezuela have become increasingly assertive about limiting access to their reserves."

—Jad Mouawad, "At Exxon, Making the Case for Oil," The New York Times, November 16, 2008.

“‘Big oil,’ as Daniel Yergin notes…isn’t what it used to be. Forget the ‘seven sisters’—those huge companies that dominated the oil business in the 20th century. Today, at least 80 percent of oil reserves are in government hands, and three quarters of the 20 biggest oil companies are owned by states, many of them struggling to meet the needs of their populations.”

—Valerie Marcel, “States of Play: National oil companies control ever more of the world’s oil. But they’re not all alike,” Foreign Policy, September/October, 2009, p. 104.

Also Known As (AKA)

Sette Sorrelle


Related on eAlmanac
The Pleiades Star Cluster
The Seven Sisters Women's Colleges
The Seven Sisters Women's Magazines

Beyond eAlmanac
Wikipedia article on the Seven Sisters Oil Companies

Product Links
The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin

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One Response to “The Seven Sisters Oil Companies”

  1. […] ENI became a world-class company that competed with the Anglo-American oil giants, the “Seven Sisters.” Mattei’s brilliant business coup was that he had exploited Italian […]


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