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Oil execs defend huge profits before Senate

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‘Laws of supply and demand are at work,’ Shell chairman explains

WASHINGTON - Since regular people are scrimping to pay for gasoline to go to work, Sen. Patrick Leahy wanted to make it personal for the men of Big Oil.How much money did you make last year? the Vermont Democrat asked the top executives of the country’s five biggest oil companies. They had been summoned to a Senate hearing to explain the extraordinarily high cost of oil and gasoline and their companies’ profits.

Three executives said their compensation was in the millions. Two said they didn’t know.

It was the second time this year that the executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP America Inc., ConocoPhillips Co. and Shell Oil Co. had been summoned to testify before Congress. When they came in early April oil cost about $98 a barrel. On Wednesday, it bounded past $134 a barrel for a time and gasoline cost a national average of $3.80 a gallon.

The executives, whose companies reported $36 billion in profits during the first three months of the year, wanted to talk about tight supplies and growing global demand. They said that while the companies made billions of dollars, they also spent billions to find and produce more oil.

But senators complained the executives were trying to come across as “hapless victims” while raking in record profits. They wanted to press the executives about public anguish over paying $60 or more to fill up a car’s gas tank.

“Where is the corporate conscience?” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked.

“People we represent are hurting, the companies you represent are profiting,” Leahy told the executives. He said there’s a “disconnect” between legitimate supply issues and the oil and gasoline prices motorists are seeing.

Profits have been huge “in absolute terms,” conceded J. Stephen Simon, executive vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp., but they “must be viewed in the context of the massive scale of our industry.” And high earnings “in the current up cycle” are needed for investments in the long term, including when profits will be down.

“’Current up cycle,’ that’s a nice term when people can’t afford to go to work” because gasoline is costing so much, replied Leahy with sarcasm.

The exchanges got personal with Leahy wanting to know how much the executives earned last year.

It’s $12.5 million in total compensation, said Simon, the Exxon executive.

John Lowe, executive vice president of ConocoPhillips Co., said he didn’t recall his total compensations, nor did Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron Corp. Hofmeister said his was “about $2.2 million” and not among the top five salaries at his company’s international parent. Robert Malone, chairman of BP America Inc., put his “in excess of $2 million.”

The executives said restrictions on U.S. oil and gas development is adding to the tight supplies and that they’re worried about being targeted for possible new taxes.

“I urge you to resist these punitive policies,” said Hofmeister.

It was not what many senators wanted to hear.

You have “just a litany of complaints that you’re all just hapless victims of a system,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the executives. “Yet you rack up record profits ... quarter after quarter after quarter.”


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                                               Look at the flowers

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Why can't the executives put some money into the government or for the betterment of America? Considering how much Bill Gates and Buffet do through their charity work ... it's pitiful.


I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

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