Top executives of the five largest oil companies tried to shift the country’s anger over high petroleum prices to a debate over supplies in a hearing on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the executives there’s “a disconnect” between normal supply and demand and the skyrocketing price of oil — surpassing $130 a barrel even as the oil leaders testified — that the industry has yet to explain.
J. Stephen Simon, executive vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp., said profits have been huge “in absolute terms” but must be viewed in the context of the massive scale of the industry.” He also said high earnings are needed “in the current up cycle” to pay for investments in the long term when profits will be down.
“‘Current up cycle,’ that’s a nice term,” replied Leahy sarcastically, “when people can’t afford to go to work” because gasoline is costing close to $4 a gallon.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Exxon’s annual profits increased from $11.5 billion to $40.6 billion in the past five years and there was no explanation for “why profits have gone up so high when the consumer is suffering so much.”