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Big oil defends its big profits
Industry says they are essential to remain competitive in a global market; encourages more domestic production and conservation efforts.
By Steve Hargreaves, staf writer

NEW YORK ( - Big Oil defended its record profits Wednesday, saying they weren't that out of line with other industries, and that recent consolidation in the sector was essential for the U.S. to remain competitive in the global oil business.

"Seven of the 10 largest oil companies in the world are owned by foreign governments," said Red Caveney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, according to a statement from a press conference. "Earnings and reinvestment numbers may seem big to you, but in an industry that must make multi-billion dollar investment decisions annually to remain competitive, they absolutely are necessary."

American Petroleum Institute President Red Caveney
American Petroleum Institute President Red Caveney

The statement was a clear bid to head off antitrust concerns voiced recently by several members of Congress. There is currently a bill moving through the Senate that would limit future oil company mergers, and some Senators have publicly called for the break-up of some companies.

Caveney also said oil prices have risen in line with other commodities. He responded to calls for the oil industry to invest more in production and renewable energy efforts by saying the oil industry had invested $100 billion in "emerging energy technologies" over the last five years, while all other industries and the federal government combined have invested just $35 billion.

Caveney said the real cause of high energy prices, and what policy makers should focus on, were barriers to more oil exploration in the U.S., too little focus on conservation, as well as rising geopolitical tension and rising worldwide demand.

"Over the past several decades, our nation has chosen a menu of public policy decisions that has resulted in decreased domestic energy production and done little to promote energy conservation and efficiency," he said. "If we all do not understand the factors that determine energy prices, we are never going to get the policy right."

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The oil industry has come under fire recently as its profits, following the price of crude, have soared.

Exxon Mobil, the country's largest oil firm, reported annual earnings last year of $36.1 billion, or $1,146 a second, a record for any U.S. corporation.

Exxon is due to report its first quarter earnings Thursday. Oil prices have risen 6 percent since the company last reported Jan. 30.

In addition to talk of breaking up the oil companies, some lawmakers have called for a "windfall profits" tax and for the United States to sue OPEC for price collusion.

But many observers say these calls will do little to bring down the price of oil and gas, which is driven mostly by rising demand that is not being matched by an increase in supply and speculative buying by investment funds.


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