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The Financial Times: The evolution of the Seven Sisters

By Carola Hoyos
Published: March 11 2007 19:05 | Last updated: March 11 2007 19:05

Even those who only follow the oil industry casually, will know the above reference is steeped in history.

Coined by an angry Enrico Mattei, founder of Italy’s energy group Eni, after World War II, the “Seven Sisters” were: Standard Oil of New Jersey, Royal Dutch Shell, Anglo Persian Oil Company, Standard Oil of New York, Standard Oil of California, Gulf Oil and Texaco. Together, they controlled the vast majority of the world’s oil production and refining at the birth of the modern oil age.*

Mr Mattei needed to secure oil for Italy and was frustrated at being left out of the huge concessions the seven sisters controlled in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the summer of 1957 however, his persistence paid off when he broke their stranglehold in Iran by offering the Sha a more attractive and unprecedented deal.

The deal killed the generous 50/50 contracts Mr Mattei’s bigger competitors had struck and helped the region’s leaders realise the true value of their resources. The Italian oilman thereby sowed some of the seeds of the nationalisation that would take route a few years later and would eventually lead to an entirely new pecking order.

The descendents of the Seven Sisters have gradually been overtaken by a new breed of companies. These are overwhelmingly from developing countries and largely state-owned.

Today’s Seven Sisters (this time coined by the FT) are:

● Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia)

● Gazprom (Russia)

● CNPC (China)

● NIOC (Iran)

● Pdvsa (Venezuela)

● Petrobras (Brazil)

● Petronas (Malaysia)

*However, there was an eighth sister Mr Mattei failed to mention because his anger was mainly directed at the his Anglo-Saxon competitors in the Middle East. That company was France’s CFP, whose modern descendent is Total.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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