Figures show 77 companies received $8.2bn under tax changes related to Covid relief and yet almost every one let workers go

A Marathon oil well in south Texas. A spokesman for Marathon said the business made ‘the very difficult decision’ to reduce its workforce. Photograph: Jennifer Hiller/Reuters

Fossil-fuel companies have received billions of dollars in tax benefits from the US government as part of coronavirus relief measures, only to lay off tens of thousands of their workers during the pandemic, new figures reveal.

A group of 77 firms involved in the extraction of oil, gas and coal received $8.2bn under tax-code changes that formed part of a major pandemic stimulus bill passed by Congress last year. Five of these companies also got benefits from the paycheck protection program, totaling more than $30m.

Despite this, almost every one of the fossil-fuel companies laid off workers, with a more than 58,000 people losing their jobs since the onset of the pandemic, or around 16% of the combined workforces.

The largest beneficiary of government assistance has been Marathon Petroleum, which has got $2.1bn in tax benefits.

However, in the year to December 2020, the Ohio-based refining company laid off 1,920 workers, or around 9% of its workforce. As a comparative ratio, Marathon has received around $1m for each worker it made redundant, according to BailoutWatch, a nonprofit advocacy group that analyzed Securities and Exchange Commission filings to compile all the data.

Phillips 66, Vistra Corp, National Oilwell Varco and Valero were the next largest beneficiaries of the tax-code changes, with all of them also laying off workers in the past year. In the case of National Oilwell Varco, a Houston-headquartered drilling supply company, 22% of the workforce was fired, despite federal government tax assistance amounting to $591m.

Other major oil and gas companies including Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum also took in major pandemic tax benefits in the last year while also shedding thousands of workers.

“I’m not surprised that these companies took advantage of these tax benefits, but I’m horrified by the layoffs after they got this money,” said Chris Kuveke, a researcher at BailoutWatch.

“Last year’s stimulus was about keeping the economy going, but these companies didn’t use these resources to retain their workers. These are companies that are polluting the environment, increasing the deadliness of the pandemic and letting go of their workers.”