hell has cashed in on rocketing oil and gas markets by quadrupling its profits to historic highs, fuelling fresh calls for a windfall tax on fossil fuel giants to help hard-pressed households cope with record energy bills.

The oil company reported better than expected profits of $6.4bn (£4.7bn) in the final quarter of last year compared with earnings of $393m a year earlier, driven by a surge in oil and gas prices.

Shell’s profits for 2021 overall rose to $19.3bn compared with $4.85bn the year before, in part due to strong earnings from shipping liquified natural gas (LNG) on the international market amid a global squeeze on gas supplies.

Tight gas supplies have caused gas and electricity markets across major economies to reach record highs since middle of last year as demand for commodities rebounded following the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The market price rises have left UK households on the brink of a cost-of-living crisis, as the energy regulator announced on Thursday the maximum price of home energy bills would rise in April by up to 54% above current record highs.

The UK’s Labour party has called for the government to fund measures to help British households weather the cost of living crisis by imposing a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers.

“Obviously we are a commercial entity so we have to take into account commercial rationalities when it comes to decision making,” he said. “But of course in times like this, when the shortages are clear, it does make sense.”

The oil and gas company is the largest trader of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and reported “significantly higher” profits from trading LNG sales grew in the fourth quarter to 16.72m tonnes despite unplanned maintenance at its flagship Prelude floating LNG plant in Australia.

Shell’s US rival Exxon Mobil on Tuesday reported its largest profit in seven years and said it planned to boost domestic production by 25% this year. Chevron’s profit missed estimates.

Shell earlier this month officially ditched “Royal Dutch” from its name and merged its dual-listed shares after moving its head office from The Hague to London as part of a tax and structure simplification drive, which Van Beurden said would help the company plan to grow its low-carbon business.

Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive, said: “I’m not sure that windfall taxes, popular though they may seem, [are] going to help us with [energy] supply or help us with demand. But, of course, we stand ready to be in dialogue with the government on all measures.”

Instead, the oil company, which moved its headquarters from The Hague to London last month, has stepped up its investor dividends by 4% and opened an $8.5bn share buyback programme, up from a total of $3.5bn in share buybacks in 2021.

Van Beurden added that the company would “step in and do whatever we can to keep Europe supplied” with gas amid deepening tensions with gas supply giant Russia – as long as it was profitable for Shell.

Extracted in full from: New calls for windfall tax as Shell unveils highest quarterly profit in eight years | Shell | The Guardian