Understanding Average Operating Expenses in the Oil and Gas Sector

Understanding Average Operating Expenses in the Oil and Gas Sector

4 Min.

In the oil and gas sector, the average operating expenses can vary significantly depending on the type of company. Integrated oil and gas firms, exploration and production companies, and oil well service providers each have their unique financial profiles. The operating expense margin is a crucial indicator for investors and analysts to gauge the sector's health.


The oil and gas sector is a pivotal player in the global economy, responsible for the exploration, extraction, and processing of oil and natural gas. However, the sector is not homogenous, and the average operating expenses differ substantially based on the size and specialization of the companies within it.

Industry Segments

Within the oil and gas sector, there are three primary categories of companies:

  1. Integrated Oil and Gas Companies: These are fully integrated entities that handle various aspects of oil and gas operations, including exploration, drilling, and marketing. Notable names in this category include industry giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil.
  2. Exploration and Production Companies: These firms focus on discovering and drilling for oil. Some prominent companies in this segment include Occidental, Apache Corporation, Devon Energy, Dominion Energy, and EOG Resources.
  3. Oil Well Services and Equipment Companies: They offer support services to exploration and production firms, but they do not engage in oil production themselves. Well-known companies in this category are Baker Hughes and Halliburton.

Among these categories, oil and gas exploration and production companies are the most numerous, while integrated oil and gas companies are relatively fewer in number.

Understanding Operating Margin

The operating expense margin is a critical metric in assessing the financial health of companies within the oil and gas sector. This margin is calculated as a percentage of operating expenses relative to the total revenues of the sector. The operating margin can provide valuable insights for investors and analysts.

Operating Margin Variability

In the oil and gas sector, the operating expenses margin exhibits considerable variability. For instance:

  • Oil and Gas Production Companies typically report some of the highest margins within the sector. As of the fourth quarter of 2019, they had an impressive operating margin of 14.97%.
  • Oil Well Services and Equipment Companies tend to have the lowest operating expenses margin, standing at 12.3%.

The size of the operating expenses margin is significantly influenced by two key factors: depreciation expenses and the efficiency with which oil and gas companies manage their fixed costs, including selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A).

Examining Other Margins

Besides the operating margin, other financial indicators also shed light on the health and profitability of companies in the oil and gas sector.

Net Margin

  • Integrated Oil and Gas Companies typically boast the most robust net margins.
  • Oil and Gas Production Companies closely follow, indicating a competitive financial position in this segment.
  • Conversely, Oil and Gas Services and Equipment Companies report relatively slim net margins, reflecting the financial challenges they face.

Gross Margin

When evaluating gross margins, we see the following trends:

  • Oil and Gas Production Companies enjoy impressive gross margins, reaching nearly 60%.
  • Integrated Oil and Gas Companies maintain healthy margins at 37.4%.
  • Service and Equipment Companies operate with somewhat lower gross margins, around 33.9%.


The oil and gas sector is multifaceted, encompassing integrated giants, specialized exploration and production firms, and support service providers. Average operating expenses vary significantly across these categories, making it essential for investors and analysts to consider the operating expense margin when evaluating their financial health. This margin is influenced by factors such as depreciation expenses and the efficiency in managing fixed costs.

Furthermore, examining other margins, such as net and gross margins, provides a more comprehensive view of the financial landscape within this sector. Integrated oil and gas companies tend to outperform in terms of net margins, while oil and gas production companies enjoy robust gross margins. Conversely, service and equipment companies typically operate with thinner profit margins. These insights help stakeholders make informed decisions in the dynamic and critical oil and gas industry.

Average Operating Expenses
SG&A: Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses
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