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Oil, gas sector sold about $100B in bonds under Federal Reserve program – report

Oil and gas companies have sold almost $100 billion in bonds since the Federal Reserve established a program in late March to support market liquidity for corporate bonds during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a recent report from environmental and consumer organizations.

Under the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, 56 oil and gas companies have issued $99.3 billion worth of debt in U.S. markets, according to a report from the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, and BailoutWatch, which describes itself on its website as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan clearinghouse for news and analysis." The Fed established the credit facility on March 23 to help stabilize the economy as the pandemic took hold of the nation.

The American Petroleum Institute countered the report. "The Federal Reserve took decisive, economy-wide action to support liquidity and help businesses through the economic upheaval unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic," API Vice President of Corporate Policy Stephen Comstock said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that some have chosen to exploit this crisis and distort the facts about an economy-wide program in order to advance a partisan agenda."

The oil and gas industry trade group noted that all industries benefited from the Federal Reserve program. According to the API, the oil and gas sector supports 10.3 million jobs in the U.S. and almost 8% of U.S. GDP, and the energy sector represented less than 3% of the program's $12.4 billion balance sheet.

Over the first three quarters of the year, U.S.-incorporated oil and gas companies issued the highest level of energy debt in at least a decade, according to the report from Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen and BailoutWatch. The Fed has bought debt from 19 oil and gas companies that have sold more than $60 billion in new bonds to debt investors since the program began, which represents about 60% of the energy debt issued, according to the report. Credit agencies have downgraded a dozen of these 19 companies' short-term debt, long-term debt, credit or default ratings since the pandemic began, the report said.

"When consumers take on too much credit card debt, they can be forced into bankruptcy and face financial ruin," Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen's Corporate Presidency Project, who coauthored the report, said in a release. "But when the oil and gas industry accumulates too much debt, it gets a bailout on the backs of taxpayers."