ConocoPhillips’ black gold means green for CEO…

Rummaging around in corporate disclosures the way we do here at footnoted, it sometimes helps to have a reminder to step back and look at the bigger picture. We got that kind of a reminder from a reader recently, who pointed us to the immense payday that the chairman and chief executive of ConocoPhillips (COP) appears to be sitting on.

Jim Mulva, of course, has run ConocoPhillips since 2002 and been chairman since 2004; before that, he ran Phillips Petroleum for several years, and was on its board from 1994 on. Over time, he’s accumulated a tidy stash of stock options — as of the end of its last fiscal year, about 7.5 million, of which 88% are exercisable. Of those, about half, or 3.5 million, are going to expire by mid-November, according to the company’s March proxy.

We’d be very surprised if Mulva let them expire, of course. They’re very much in the money, with strike prices between $25 and $32 or so. Given that ConocoPhillips shares closed at just over $73 a share on Wednesday, our rough estimate is that those about-to-expire options are worth something like $155 million now. Put all his exercisable options together, and you’re closer to $255 million.

All of which takes on new significance given the company’s plan to split itself in two.

Following what seems to be a trend among big oil companies — first combining into globe-spanning conglomerates, and then splitting apart again, as DealBook’s Michael J. De La Merced notes — ConocoPhillips announced a couple weeks ago that it would spin off its refining operations to shareholders.

When Marathon Oil (MRO) did the same thing early this month — spinning off Marathon Petroleum (MPC) — the move was preceded by a stock run-up of about 33% between the time it announced the plan in mid-January and its completion July 1. A similar pop for ConocoPhillips would bring its shares to around $100. Of course, given Marathon’s earlier move, it’s possible a good deal of that upside is already baked into ConocoPhillips’ price, which has had a good run lately.

Still, unless something goes very wrong between now and the first half of next year, when the spin-off is supposed to be completed, then Mulva stands to make a bundle on his options. He has more coming to him than that, however. His nearly 3 million shares of unvested restricted stock or stock units would be worth some $217 million at current prices. Plus, as of December 31, his company pension had ballooned to about $62 million, and he had accumulated a deferred-compensation account of $45.6 million, counting both his contributions and the returns the company has promised to pay him on those amounts.

Put together everything he’s entitled to today, and it’s over $360 million, not counting those unvested restricted shares. ConocoPhillips shareholders have done pretty well over the years — trouncing the S&P 500, though more or less tracking the integrated oil & gas segment and trailing the likes of Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX).

For Mulva, by contrast, the results are a little more clear-cut.

Image source: ConocoPhillips presentation [PDF]