John D. Rockefeller himself did not control crude reserves. Instead he invested heavily in refining and cut deals with the Morgan-controlled railroads to cut his shipping costs. Texas wildcatters had to pay much more to ship their oil. They possessed neither the esoteric knowledge of refining crude, nor the capital to build expensive refineries. All their money was tied up in drilling rigs, which were not cheap either. By 1895 Standard Oil controlled 95% of both shipping and refining of US oil. 
Today the Rockefeller family fortune is even more heavily invested in downstream oil operations such as petrochemicals and plastics, as well as in industries which are dependent on oil such as banking, aerospace and automobiles. In the 1980’s David Rockefeller, long-time Chase Manhattan chairman, invested $35 billion in Singapore, which has since become an important refining and storage center.  RD/Shell’s largest single refinery is at Pulau Bukom, Singapore. In 1991, as the Asian Tigers began to roar, Exxon Mobil introduced unleaded gas to Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. It produces it at its giant Jurong refinery in Singapore.
The Four Horsemen have followed the money downstream. They are the world’s largest refiners and marketers of crude oil in all of its various end-product forms. RD/Shell is the leading marketing and refiner and is currently the source of one in ten barrels of refined product in the world. Its bottom line has benefited greatly from this downstream move with the firm showing record profits starting in 1988 and many years since. Seventy-seven percent of Shell profits now come from petrochemicals.
Shell owns the world’s largest refinery complex on the Netherlands Antilles island of Aruba, just off the Venezuelan coast. In 1991 Shell sold an outdated refinery on the neighboring island of Curacao while upgrading its Aruba facilities. The completion of this massive complex caused Venezuelan crude to become much more important to global oil supply. Crude from African nations like Nigeria and Angola is also refined at the Shell Aruba facility which sits next to a hulking Exxon Mobil refinery named Lago, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, from where most Venezuelan crude is derived.
RD/Shell is currently focused on development of natural gas markets, investing heavily in Middle Distillate Synthesis (MDS) plants, which convert liquefied natural gas to high-grade liquid products. By 1996 they had built MDS facilities in Malaysia, Nigeria and Norway.  In 1993 Shell joined with Mitsubishi and Exxon Mobil in a $3 billion natural gas project in Venezuela and launched a $1.1 billion petrochemical expansion in Brazil. That same year BP Amoco discovered huge oilfields in neighboring Columbia. 
Over 60% of Exxon’s 1991 profits came from downstream operations. In the first quarter alone, Exxon made a $2.4 billion profit, the highest quarterly profit since Rockefeller founded Standard Oil of NJ in 1882. It was no coincidence that the Gulf War was being prosecuted during this time, with Exxon meeting much of the demand generated by the US military and its allies.  In the early 1990’s Exxon bought the plastics division of Allied Signal and entered joint ventures with both Dow and Monsanto in the thermoplastic elastomer realm.  According to Exxon Mobil’s 2001 10K filing to the SEC, the company netted $17 billion in year 2000. From 2003-2006, during the US occupation of Iraq, the company regularly broke its own record for biggest quarterly profit by any corporation in US history.
The Four Horsemen are the top four retailers of gas in the US, own every major pipeline in the world and the vast majority of oil tankers. RD/Shell has 114 ships in its armada. Recently the company added seven giant liquefied natural gas tankers.  Shell has 133,000 employees worldwide. In 1991 boasted assets of $105 billion. Shell’s Bullwinkle oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico is taller than the world’s highest building. Exxon Mobil leads the way in producing lubricant base stocks and its scientists invented butyl rubber. It has operations in 200 countries and is the only firm that operates in the harsh Beaufort Sea, where it built 19 islands of steel to drill from. Exxon owns most of the land in Yemen (5.6 million acres), Oman and Chad. Its 1991 assets totaled $87 billion. 
The Four Horsemen used to acquire oil concessions in foreign lands. Increasingly, they operate as service contractors for Third World producer governments. This role has proven both more lucrative and more stable, with the companies assuming less production and nationalization risk. Free to focus their energies downstream, Big Oil has devised increasingly sophisticated technical processes and marketing techniques which leave producer governments, including OPEC, ever more dependent on the majors to refine and sell their crude as finished product.
Oil economist M. A. Adelman points out other advantages, “The contract system serves the multinational corporations because state-owned oil companies will compete for market share. It eliminates tax liabilities and risk, leaving only the ‘bare cost’ of crude.” Big Oil were the first corporations to be vertically integrated, controlling each phase of the production-to-consumption process. Independent companies sell crude to various refiners, distillers and petrochemical synthesizers. Big Oil owns such facilities and simply deliver a country’s crude to their various global tentacles for processing.
Iraq was the first country to nationalize its oil sector, followed by Kuwait and Venezuela in the mid 1970s. The Four Horsemen simply signed service contracts with these governments and continued to profit. Exxon’s Creole Petroleum arm in Venezuela signed a 900,000 barrel per day contract with the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela S. A. to market Venezuelan crude, the biggest such contract in history. The Saudis and Kuwaitis, the GCC’s most important members, have been allowed to partake in limited retail operations, but the Gulf War severely curtailed Kuwait’s attempt to become the 8th Sister.
Even nationalist governments like Angola, Libya and Algeria are forced to market their oil through the Four Horsemen. In post-revolution Iran NIOC (National Oil Company of Iran), which was created when BP’s Iranian assets were nationalized in 1979, still sells 40% of its crude to former Iranian Consortium members.  The oil giants discourage any direct marketing by national oil firms. Sonatrach, the Algerian state-run oil company, for example, owns no European service stations, despite its proximity to the continent.
Most importantly, like the wildcatters in Texas, the producing nations do not have access to the technological secrets involved in the refining of crude into finished product. In 1988 US-based refineries had a collective capacity of 16 million barrels/day, while refineries in Saudi Arabia produced only 1.5 million barrels/day. All Middle East-based refineries combined refined only 4.4 million barrels/day.  With the increased presence of US military personnel in Saudi Arabia, ARAMCO refining capacity has increased, but only after its 1993 mergers with its Samarec and Petromin refining arms. These are joint ventures with the Four Horsemen. Of ARAMCO’s eleven current board members, two are former chairmen of Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco and one is a US banker. 
The two large Saudi Red Sea refineries at Yanbu and Jubail are joint ventures between Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), Exxon Mobil and RD/Shell. SABIC petrochemical plants were built by Bechtel and financed by Chase Manhattan. The key ARAMCO pipeline from the Persian Gulf to Yanbu was built by Fluor and the German Mannesman AG. The Saudi Arabian Gulf Oil Company is half owned by Chevron Texaco, which in 1996 announced a joint venture to build a benzene plant in the Kingdom. Exxon Mobil owns 50% of al-Jubail Petrochemical, 100% of Exxon Chemical Arabia, 100% of Mobil Yanbu Refining, 100% of Mobil Yanbu Petrochemical, 50% of Saudi Yanbu Petrochemical and 50% of Saudi ARAMCO Mobil Refining. 
In 2001 the Saudis announced plans to launch a $25 billion project to extract and market 220 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Kingdom with the Four Horsemen as partners. After the events of 911 and the subsequent bad blood between the US and Saudi Arabia the project is on shaky ground. The Saudi ruling family is becoming increasingly divided over the question of whether or not the US is friend or foe. This makes the Four Horsemen extremely nervous. The late 2002 push by the Bush Jr. Administration to invade Iraq has as much to do with Big Oil’s desire to occupy and exploit these extensive Saudi gas fields as it does their longstanding goal of seizing Iraq’s vast and mostly unexplored oilfields.
Most Saudi and GCC crude is still transported to another location to be refined. Much Saudi crude is refined in Bahrain under the watchful eye of the US 5th Fleet. As of 1980 there were 900 oil refineries in the world. Only 13 of those were located in the Persian Gulf States.  By 1969 Exxon owned 67 refineries in 37 countries. Chalmette Refining is a Louisiana joint venture between Exxon Mobil and Venezuela.  In Venezuela itself, the one OPEC nation which has acquired some technical expertise of refining processes, state-owned PDVSA oil flows through an Exxon Mobil pipeline built by Bechtel under the southern Caribbean to huge refineries on Aruba owned by RD/Shell and Exxon Mobil. Nigerian crude arrives at port via BP Amoco pipelines built by M.W. Kellogg, is loaded onto Chevron Texaco tankers, and sent to those same RD/Shell and Exxon Mobil Aruba refineries. 
Dean Henderson is the author of five books:Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve, Stickin’ it to the Matrix & The Federal Reserve Cartel. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @www.hendersonlefthook.wordpress.com