Big Oil Defends Profits

Oil company execuitves, from left, David O'Reilly, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chevron Corporation; James Mulva, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Conoco Phillips; Ross Pillari, President and Chief Executive Officer, BP America Inc.; and John Hofmeister, President and U.S. Country Chair, Shell Oil Company testify on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005 before a joint Senate Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.
The Senate hearing had yet to begin when a dispute erupted over whether the top executives of five major oil companies should testify under oath about their record profits.

Democrats wanted it that way, but Republicans balked, calling such a move a needless photo op that smacked of grandstanding. So no oath was taken.

In the three hours that followed, the executives, whose companies and parent corporations earned $32.8 billion during the last quarter, provided little beyond what the industry has been saying for weeks: Their profits are huge because the industry is huge; the companies are ready to invest billions of dollars to get more oil; and if Congress tries to punish them by imposing a windfall profits tax, it will only lead to fewer such investments.

CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports oil executives blamed gas station owners for wildly fluctuating prices at the pump and blamed OPEC for the high cost of oil.

From July through September, Orr adds, ExxonMobil made nearly $10
Billion, Shell earned $9 billion, B.P., $6.5 billion, and Conoco-Phillips and Chevron, more than $3 billion each -- $33 billion, or $110 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

The oil executives found little sympathy from senators, who said their constituents are suffering from high energy prices while Big Oil makes big profits.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., cited multimillion-dollar bonuses atop multimillion-dollar salaries and stock options the executives are getting while "working people struggle" to pay for gasoline and face the specter of soaring home heating bills.

"People are concerned about fairness and justice at a time of sacrifice," Boxer told the executives. "Your sacrifice appears to be nothing."

None of the executives responded.

There is a "growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage," said Pete Domenici, R-N.M. "The oil companies owe the American people an explanation."

Talking to reporters after the executives were dismissed, Domenici praised them for answering all the questions but added, "The question of gouging still remains" a mystery.