Democrats in Congress took aim at oil and gas company executives Wednesday, decrying the fact that many of them are reporting record profits at the same time that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted global energy markets and Americans are paying record high prices for gasoline.
In a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing, entitled “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America's Pain at the Pump,” Democrats demanded the witnesses explain how gasoline prices, on average, still remain above $4.00 per gallon well after the price of crude oil receded from its record high.
“This committee is not going to sit back and allow this system, which forces American taxpayers to pay oil companies out of both pockets, first at the pump and then through tax breaks, to continue in its current form,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the oversight subcommittee holding the hearing.
Among the six executives testifying, all remotely, Rick Muncrief, President and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, assured committee members that Devon is not taking financial advantage of the war in Ukraine nor intentionally keeping prices elevated.
“I can assure you that at Devon we are pragmatically investing in our business for the long haul,” said Muncrief in a prepared opening statement, “and we have a responsibility to our more than 660,000 shareholder owners to be prudent and thoughtful.”
Still, Democrats tried to get the executives to explain how gasoline prices could soar as quickly as crude prices did, when Russia launched its invasion six weeks ago, but not come back down when crude prices did.
"While the price of oil has dropped significantly from its peak, the price Americans are paying at the pump has not," said Rep. Degette. "And this is what I want to know from our witnesses today -- why?"
Critics of big oil say it's not right that these companies are “lining their pockets with one hand while taking in billions in taxpayer subsidies with the other,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-NJ). “Meanwhile, the American people are getting ripped off as these companies choose to keep production low so that their own profits stay high.”
But the CEO's defended their choices, explaining that increasing production is not easy right now, due to permitting slow-downs, manpower and equipment shortages.
Still, Devon CEO Muncrief said they’re managing to do it — “We’ve gone from 14 rigs to 19 rigs, we’re going to have 300 new wells added this year, so we’re doing a lot and we’re also going to take care of our shareholders.”