House Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee

Drilling for Answers on Oil and Gas Prices, Profits, and Alternatives

210 Cannon
Tue, 01 Apr 2008 16:00:00 GMT

On Tuesday, April 1, 2008, Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) will bring top-level executives from the five largest oil companies to discuss the current state of oil and gas prices, oil company profits, and the need for clean, renewable fuels to ease demand for oil and cut global warming pollution.

ExxonMobil reported record profits of $40.6 billion in 2007, and the other top four oil companies like BP and Shell made billions more. These same companies are fighting to keep $18 billion in tax breaks that Congress is attempting to shift towards renewable energy incentives for wind, solar, biomass and other climate-friendly sources. The House recently passed the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, but President Bush and the top oil companies are fighting to defeat the measure in the Senate.

  • Mr. J. Stephen Simon, Senior Vice President, Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Mr. John Hofmeister, President, Shell Oil Company
  • Mr. Robert A. Malone, Chairman and President, BP America, Inc.
  • Mr. Peter Robertson, Vice Chairman, Chevron
  • Mr. John Lowe, Executive Vice President, ConocoPhillips
12:11 Markey On April Fool’s Day, the biggest trick is being played on American consumers.
  1. The poorest Americans are currently spending 10% of their income on gasoline. The companies should spend 10% on renewables and biofuels.
  2. The companies should support renewable legislation.
  3. The Administration should stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The American people deserve answers.

12:12 Sensenbrenner Due to some of the highest gas taxes in the nation, my constituents pay some of the highest gas prices. It’s not surprising that gas and oil prices are going up. Demand is going up. Countries like China and India have demand growing well past traditional needs. Last week we heard the big impact the oil and gas companies have on the economy. They create good jobs and their R&D creates more jobs. It’s my hope they will bring new energy sources online. Unfortunately many places are unstable like Nigeria. These executives know what the future holds. I too believe that energy diversity must be a key part of energy policy. Oil and gas must play a dominant supply role for the forseeable future.

12:16 Blumenauer I look forward to hearing the executives ideas on how to get more renewable power. I look forward to finding what subsidies are necessary. I’m interested at what point an industry becomes sufficiently mature that it no longer needs taxpayer help and what parts do need support to be profitable. I personally believe we should put scarce taxpayer resources into a renewable sustainable future.

12:19 Shadegg (R-Ariz.) I think it’s important for all Americans to understand today’s very high oil prices. I am extremely interested in this issue. There is a sad lacking of basic economic understanding in the Congress and nation at large. I have tried to encourage further construction of refining purposes without much luck. If you look at the issues of both supply and demand, there are problems with both. There are known areas of supply but for various political reasons we are not allowed to go there. China has moved quickly towards becoming a developed nation. The result is not surprising—a spike in the cost of oil and gasoline. U.S. oil companies control less than 10% of oil reserves. Obviously we have a tremendous interest in exploring alternative energies.

12:22 Inslee (D-Wash.) I think that the public sentiment is not that Americans don’t understand supply and demand, and demand from China and India are going up. They don’t understand why you take an extra $18 billion out of their pockets on April 15. Secondly, Americans know that we have to wean ourselves off of oil and gas, we’re seeing a very small investment in clean renewable energy. I won’t ask for your home phone numbers.

12:25 Walden (R-OR) I share the concerns you’ve already heard. I’m hearing a lot from my constituents, farmers and ranchers. I’m a big supporter of renewable energy. I bought two hybrids. How do we meet the oil and gas needs of today in America, and how do we build a renewable energy industry? The price of oil is tied to the value of the dollar, as well. How do we solve the problem? How do we fix the problem so that we’re energy independent so that we can grow out of an oil economy?

12:28 Larson (D-Conn.) The laws of supply and demand are completely broken. I’d like to know if speculators are driving up the cost. Inasmuch as you receive $107 billion anually in taxpayer dollars.

12:29 Miller (R-Mich.) This committee was formed to address the question of climate change. We should take a good look in the mirror. We’ve done nothing as Congress to develop ANWR or offshore, and we’ve regulated prices up. Our domestic auto manufacturers have borne the brunt. Many other industries are responding as well. The oil companies continue to reap huge benefits. Many other industries have been asked to help us solve environmental problems. You are in the position to advance new and cleaner technologies. I believe you’re going to see a backlash from your customers. The backlash from this Congress could go farther than rolling back tax breaks in the face of combined profits of $123 billion last year alone.

12:32 Cleaver (D-Mo.) We hear over and over again, what are you going to do about high gas prices?

12:34 Sullivan (R-Ok.) One of the biggest concerns I heard was about food prices going up because of ethanol. ConocoPhillips is in my district. I get tired of hearing people saying Big Oil, Big Oil. I do want to hear about what you guys have to say about what’s going on.

12:35 Hall (D-N.Y.) As we all know, the price of oil has been rising at a dizzying pace. Today the average price of gas is $3.29. In New York, the cost is over $3.40. President Bush may not have known about the concern that gas would reach $4 a gallon, but Americans know. Since 2002 the combined profits of the five largest companies has quadrupled. During this hearing we’ll hear a lot trying to explain them away. Something is wrong and we need to fix it. I’m encouraged that some witnesses have expressed support for a carbon reduction plan.

12:38 Blackburn (R-Tenn.) I hope we will benefit from your expertise and insight. I hope we won’t try to place blame. We have placed new regulations, new burdens, and it seems we have not gotten the results we want. For every one dollar the price of gas goes up, that’s $600 out of the budgets of an American family. There are some who would like to place blame on you and place more taxes on you, would it place this nation at risk on more unfriendly foreign sources of oil?

12:40 McNerney (D-Calif.) Chevron is in my district. All companies must show profits and benefits to their shareholders. Oil prices are up, profits are up, and there’s clear evidence that the earth’s atmosphere is warming. I’m hoping to understand your perspective on this. I don’t believe the oil and gas industry should be at odds with the renewable industry. We know that progress is being made, by Chevron for example.

12:42 Solis (D-Calif.) I don’t intend to lay blame on you specifically. The price of gasoline in my district is upwards $3.69 a gallon, over $4 for diesel. Many of my constituents are truckers for the Port of Los Angeles. Why can’t those profits go into renewable energy and fuels and creating green-collar jobs? I’m just asking you to please step up to the plate. The suggestions I don’t want to hear for more drilling off our coast and opening up old refineries. Please keep in mind the constituents we represent.

12:44 Herseth-Sandler (D-S.D.) The average price for a barrel of oil in January ‘02 was $20 a barrel. Price volatility alone seems to me dictate is fuel diversity. One solution seems to me is biofuels if we put the proper systems in place. It has been shown that it is energy prices involved in transporting and processing food that affects food prices far more than the cost of corn and wheat. For those of you that don’t represent agriculture districts, most of our policies only kick in when prices are low. We should do that with other commodities.

12:48 Simon (Exxon) The world’s economy runs on energy. Because energy is so important, all of us must engage in an open debate. First, our earnings, though high in absolute terms, need to be understood in context. Second, stable tax policies are critical. Third, all reliable and economic forms of energy are needed. But renewables must not detract from the development of oil and gas. The oil and gas earned about 8.3 cents per dollar of sales, near the Dow Jones average of 7.3 cents per dollar of sales. In 1980, crude oil prices reached record prices. Many were predicting oil would reach 200 dollars in today’s prices. But they were wrong. Our industry requires investments that take decades. Over the next five years ExxonMobil intends to invest over $125 billion.

Regarding taxes: while our worldwide profits have grown, our worldwide taxes have grown more. Over the last five years, Exxon’s total tax bill exceeded our earnings. ExxonMobil’s effective tax rate in 2007 was 40%. The market is the most effective means of maximizing supply. Raising taxes on oil and gas production will likely lead to less alternative energy production, not more. Continuing to provide Americans with the energy they need is a challenge Exxon employees are ready to meet.

Hofmeister (Shell) We just had a nationwide dialogue on energy security. I agree we need an energy project on the scale of the Manhattan or Apollo Project. Developments in the financial market contributed to the rising prices. U.S. energy resources are unavailable. What is the energy supply-demand outlook? It is sobering. Demand is increasing unrelentingly. U.S. supply has fallen for thirty years because the U.S. government puts supply off limits. Shell is making significant capital investment. We spent $25 billion last year and will spend $28-$29 billion this year on capital investment. Shell is the world’s largest blender of biofuels. Shell has 11 wind projects. Shell is a leader in thin-film solar. We have proprietary coal-to-liquids technology. Shell continues to be an industry leader in deep-water Gulf of Mexico. Shell has a worldclass manufacturing organization. In oil sands, oil shale, Shale is developing the infrastructure to develop them in the U.S. and Canada. In 2006, Congress opened new areas in the Gulf of Mexico to development. We need all forms of energy including conservation. I commend Congress for including higher fuel economy. We support a cap-and-trade program with sectoral approaches.

Robertson (Chevron) I will address three issues: rising oil prices, energy supply. Three years ago we sent a letter foreshadowing the issues we face today of volatility and high prices. All Americans feel the pain of $100 oil. The world is consuming oil at an ever-increasing rate. There are a billion people enjoying our standard of living. We need your help to open the 85% of the Outer Continental Shelf off limits. There are 17 boutique fuels across the country. The time for action is now. In the last 5 minutes, the world has consumed 35 million gallons of gas equivalent.

Lowe (ConocoPhillips) ConocoPhillips supports developing traditional, renewable, and alternative forms of energy. We cannot attain an alternative energy economy in a few short decades. We must also develop the ability to use fossil fuels in cleaner forms. Our reinvestments exceeded our income. We have $15 billion in investments in 2008, including a major investment in the Canadian oil sands. We are increasing our refining capacity. Although renewable is not a core part of our portfolio, ethanol represents 5% of our gasoline volumes. We are working to produce biofuels from agricultural waste. We are evaluating opportunities to invest in solar and wind power. We have developed proprietary technology to convert coal into clean-burning natural gas. Two years ago, we formed a unique relationship with Tyson to create biofuels from animal fats. The House is blocking us from getting the biodiesel incentive. It is critical that incentives be feedstock and technology neutral. Hopefully we can move beyond today’s adversarial relationship. The U.S. is engaged in a global race. Unless our domestic companies are allowed to compete on level ground, we will undermine U.S. energy supply.

1:10 Malone (BP America) We’re the nation’s largest producer of domestic oil and gas. We expect to spend $30 billion in the next five years to expand natural gas from the West, to develop the Gulf of Mexico, to produce oil from the North Slope of Alaska. We expect to have 1000 MW of wind power on line. We’re one of the largest blenders of ethanol in the nation. We will invest $500 million in non-foodcrop ethanol. We can work with this Congress to move toward greater energy security. BP in America is working hard to diversify American energy supply. Our investment across the entire energy spectrum is huge. During 2007 we invested $750 million on alternative energy. Even with energy efficiency and renewable energy, the U.S. will consume more fossil fuels than it does today. U.S. energy policy must address both supply and demand. Taxing one form of energy to invest in another will reduce our ability to keep up with U.S. demand. On the demand side we have to drive up energy efficiency.

1:15 Markey Last year ExxonMobil reported $40 billion in profits and $7.5 billion in executive compensation, but I can’t see more than $100 million in renewables in the next ten years.

Simon When you go back to 2000 we as a corporation recognized that we had a huge challenge in front of us in keeping up with demand while balancing the risks of climate change. We looked at every facet of renewable energy. Our best scientists looked at it in a fundamental basis, a well to wheels analysis.

Markey How much have you invested in renewable energy in 2008?

Simon I will get to that.

Simon Recognizing that we needed to do something of a great magnitude, we initiated the global climate project at Stanford University. Putting more money into something won’t necessarily…

Our analysis is that we are not going to be able to meet the challenge. We need to leapfrog current technology.

Markey We don’t have time. For the poor in America, 10% of their income is going to oil. You’re doing a partnership to begin to think about doing something.

Simon To have an impact it’s going to take breakthroughs. About 70% of the price of gas is crude oil. We can moderate demand.

Markey You can’t be nickel and diming renewables at Exxon, and recording record profits, and fighting our efforts to put the billions into renewable R&D.

Simon The current technologies don’t have an impact.

Markey That’s just a policy of tax breaks for companies and tough breaks for consumers. With all respect to Stanford, other companies here are investing billions in renewable energy.

1:22 Sensenbrenner We don’t have the power to repeal the law of supply and demand. Demand is up because of China and India. Supply is restricted because we can’t build refineries. Our low interest policy to prevent the housing market from tanking is pulling down the dollar. What do you think is the most important policy to increase supply?

Simon Open access to supplies that are currently off-limits.

Hofmeister Short-term, medium, and long-term strategies. We will suffer enormously from a continuing shortage of hydrocarbons.

Robertson A message of efficiency is most important, then open up off-shore development.

Lowe We need more access in the United States.

Malone In Canada we have the Saudi Arabia of North America.

Sensenbrenner If you had the supply, would you have the refining capacity?

Malone Two of our projects are to expand our refineries with access to Canadian crude. We can expand our refineries.

Lowe We’ve encountered significant difficulty in permitting these projects.

Robertson The U.S. market has been has been about flat. We have the refining capacity.

Hofmeister We have the refining capacity to meet future demand.

Simon We don’t think we’ll have any issues.

1:27 Blumenauer Mr. Simon, please submit to the committee the accounting assumptions to say you’re spending more in taxes than income. Your testimony referenced that we’re 5% of the world’s population and consuming 20% of the world’s supply. Anyone think this is sustainable?

Simon I think we will be able to meet increase in demand.

Blumenauer Can we not come close to Europe and Japan in per-capita use in the next ten or 15 years?

Robertson Absolutely.

Blumenauer Some of you more aggressively than other recognize that the future is going to be weighted toward renewables. At what point the mature part of your business, the oil production, is mature enough that we can focus the subsidy on the emerging parts, like wind and solar?

Hofmeister Your timeframe of 10 to 15 years is too short. We don’t have the benefits of dense housing and mass transit systems. The issue that is most troubling in terms of 199 withdrawal is punishing 5 companies by name. We are mature already. We are successful as a company. Wind and solar have lots of obstacles to overcome. There is not enough turbine manufacturing, not enough high-transmission lines.

Blumenauer We may not have 10 to 15 years. I suspect with your help I think we could put these pieces together.

1:34 Shadegg As a result of a loophole of U.S. tax code where we created an incentive to create biodiesel and add one gallon of biodiesel to 99 gallons of conventional diesel, you get a $1 gallon subsidy, known as “splash and dash.” Can you justify that?

Simon Our policy is that renewables should not be subsidized.

Robertson We haven’t taken advantage of it and we don’t need it.

Shadegg Mr. Simon, can you tell me what percentage of the world’s biggest oil companies are owned by foreign governments?

Simon Only about 2 of the top 13 oil companies are international. National companies control 80% of supply.

Shadegg I suspect there are areas that are less sensitive and others. Is there a correlation between reserves being locked off and the decline in production?

Robertson The first thing that would make sense to do is to do a seismic survey of the entire outer continental shelf. It’s pretty clear there are going to be some areas that are prospective and some that are not.

Hofmeister From past surveys, the API estimates there are 100 billion barrels of supplies in non-sensitive areas.

1:39 Inslee I want to commend BP for meeting their Kyoto internal targets. Did any of you participate in the Dick Cheney energy task force?

Malone Yes.

Inslee Could you make your related documents available to the committee?

Malone Yes.

Inslee We need to make real investments in the renewable energy revolution. You’re investing less than 0.5% revenues on renewables.

Inslee Considering we have to cut our greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050, would you agree

Simon The assumption that that’s required… the fact is we are going to have gas and oil and coal and it’s going to constitute about 80% of the energy equation.

Inslee If Exxon continues to only have 0.5% of its revenues we’re heading for a climate catastrophe.

Simon I don’t agree.

Inslee Where’s the investment going to come from, the oil fairy?

Inslee I was at Stanford recently and very excited by a report from Dr. Jacobson. The U.S. could replace all vehicles with electric vehicles powered by wind and solar electricity. With your pathetically small research budget, we’re not going to meet.

Simon I invite you to look what we’re doing with our climate project.

Inslee We did ask your company what investments they’re making and they refused to give it to us.

1:44 Walden With your record high profits have you given any thought to lowering the price of gasoline?

Hofmeister The global price of crude is the real issue. The global price of crude will not go down unless supply go up.

Walden Or demand goes down. And I fear demand is going down not because of conservation but because of hard economic decisions.

Robertson Ethanol prices have been pretty volatile but it’s a pretty small price of the gasoline. 70% of the price of gas is oil, 15% is taxes.

Walden I’m interested in your partnership on woody biomass. Are there any breakthroughs in cellulosic development?

Robertson The thing that’s important is that they’ve got a huge amount of forestry. We’ve got a lot of knowledge on fuels. We’re convinced we can come up with something together. Different places trying different kinds of feedstocks.

Walden I also serve on the Energy Committee. Can you talk about the Alaska pipeline?

Malone We will be done on schedule and maybe ahead of time.

1:50 Larson Your primary responsibility is to the shareholders of your company. Is that fair? And when we make decisions, we do them based on the citizens we’re sworn to serve. In my district the system of supply and demand has gone amok. We’ve seen speculation, causing the artificial rise in the price of oil.

Simon When you look at the fundamentals, the price should be $50-55 a barrel of oil. The weaker dollar, the geopolitical risk, and speculation.

Larson What would you do about speculation?

Robertson The main thing are demand, supply, the dollar, we’re part of a world system.

Larson We’re responsible to our citizens. What are we giving you a tax break of $107 billion?

Robertson Our shareholders only benefit if our customers are satisfied. We’re spending as much as we can to increase energy for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Miller We are in the global market for energy. We look to Canada and see all the oil sands there. What percentage of the foreign supply comes from Canada? What’s the oil sands potential? I hear China is trying to lock down a contract.

Lowe ConocoPhillips is the largest landholder in the Canadian oil sands. We have a number of very good multi-billion-dollar projects. Ultimately Canadian oil sands can supply 20% of U.S. needs.

Robertson The U.S. uses 20 million barrels a day. Canada is the largest importer, Mexico the next largest. Oil sands could build up over 10-15 years.

Malone We’re going to expand our Midwest refineries to handle Canadian heavy crude.

Hofmeister The oil sands are successful because Canada has established a national energy strategy. Shell has been working to develop the oil shale of Utah and Colorado.

Miller Congress doesn’t always do well on national policy. We’re going to end up bankrupting the domestic auto industry because of the standards we’ve placed on them. What about China?

Robertson China is investing around the world just like we are. Most of the oil in Canada is going to come south to the United States.

Simon We have to be careful about cutting ourselves off from the supply of heavy tar sands.

2:01 Cleaver My father never earned more than $25,000 a year. I’m meeting people like that soon in my coffee with a Congressman. Mr. Simon, what can I say to them to understand how Lee Raymond received a $400 million severance package, $141,000 a day.

Simon I would hope that’s behind us now. It’s in the past.

Cleaver Everything we can talk about is in the past.

Simon There’s a misconception how much is due to the past, current, and future.

Cleaver So that’s what I can tell them?

Simon When you break it down and look at that pay package you would consider that was competitive.

Cleaver This is a rhetorical question, but what ever happened to shame? Are any of you upgrading or unplugging old wells?

Robertson We’re certainly looking at it.

Cleaver We get the impression the oil industry is struggling.

Hofmeister We struggle for access. We’re looking for the ample reserves. We could spend a lot of money with low return in existing fields.

Cleaver All of your companies are doing well, right?

Robertson We’re working durn hard. Life is not easy.

Cleaver Your stock prices don’t make it sound like a struggle.

Robertson I didn’t say it was a struggle, I said we’re working hard.

2:07 Sullivan I believe in global warming, that plays a part. You want to displace international supply with domestic supply. I want to see us move away from gas and oil eventually. In the short term you said 15-20 years to develop this technology. Oil and gas is still going to be very much part of this equation.

Hofmeister I think it’s important for Americans to understand the scale of the problem. 10,000 gallons of gas is consumed an hour. 20 railcars of coal are burned a minute. The scale of massive amounts of hydrocarbons consumed is absolutely necessary. What is slowing the conversion is the lack of commerciability of alternatives.

Simon If you look at the IAEA fossil fuels will make up 80% of the economy by 2030.

Robertson In 1999 we closed the books and our profits were zero.

2:13 McNerney With varying degrees of emphasis you’ve indicated you have investments in renewable and efficiency. What’s your long-term view?

Robertson We agree with the 2030 outlook of 85% coming from fossil fuels. The biggest opportunity comes from energy efficiency. We can get 30% reduction in use of energy. The opportunity for us all to become a lot more energy efficient, in leading the nation, that’s the biggest source of energy.

McNerney Do you think we’ve reached the maximum output of oil?

Hofmeister I don’t ascribe at all to peak oil theory. The idea of moving from 85 million barrels/day to 110 million barrels/day is in the focus of the world’s oil companies.

McNerney What’s the bottleneck?

Hofmeister National companies limit access. The U.S. is the best example of having lots of resources that are locked up. The peak oil theory makes no remarks with respect to oil sands and oil shale. I agree that by 2030 we’ll still be a hydrocarbon economy.

2:17 Blackburn Our nation has made choices and those choices have consequences. Some unwise choices 20, 30 years ago are bearing consequences. When a consumer buys a gallon of gas and they’re paying $3.29 they’re paying 69% for crude and 13% for tax and 18% for refining/distribution/marketing. So the government gets the most out of a gallon of gas?

Simon That’s right.

Blackburn We have to find out how we’re going to deal with this. What I would like to hear from you your short, medium, and long-term strategies in the form of a one-sheet. We need a comprehensive strategy that takes into account supply and demand. What do you think of windfall profit taxes?

Hofmeister I think windfall profits have been tried before and that reduces supply.

2:22 Solis The risk of global warming.

Malone We made the decision seven years ago we had to address global warming. We knew our business emits greenhouse gases. There is a missing link now. We still don’t have any way to price and market carbon in this country. If you can’t sequester it, there’s no market mechanism to move forward.

Solis Why have you not developed any leases?

Simon We’re developing as fast as we can.

Hofmeister Leases are about 10 years time. Sometimes 10 years isn’t long enough.

Solis How do you explain the profits?

Hofmeister The profits are cumulative around the world.

Solis So the obstacle is the market.

Hofmeister If we had the confidence that there were more leases, we would do more investment.

Robertson Today Chevron’s the largest geothermal company in the world.

2:30 Herseth-Sandlin Would you still blend 8% if there wasn’t a RFS?

Simon If there were not a renewable fuel standard we would not do that.

Robertson We’re trying to go up to 10%. We do think going about 10% would impact the food supply.

Herseth-Sandlin Do you know the impact of fuel transport vs. ethanol demand on food prices?


Shell and ConocoPhillips and BP are test-marketing E85. Malone: We have limited E85.

2:34 Hall I wanted to comment that the actions of Congress have not gotten results. The attempt by the House to roll back tax breaks has failed to get out of the Senate. I have a constituent who bought a flex-fuel vehicle and had to be told there are only two E85 pumps in New York.

Simon We do not make biofuels so we cannot warrantee it.

Hofmeister We are test-marketing E85 in Wisconsin but the results are very poor.

Robertson Some have.

Lowe ConocoPhillips are testmarketing it. Consumer acceptance is low.

Malone We’re very concerned by the UL listing on the pump.

Hall I’m burning 20% biodiesel for my home heating. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Fischer-Tropsch process.

Hofmeister Our work has been on solid materials and liquefaction of natural gas.

Robertson I’m not aware of a system able to take CO2 out of the air.

Hall If you’re making two gazillion dollars of profit in a time period. Would you as a patriotic move use some piece of your advertising budget that people should conserve?

Shell and Chevron advertising does a lot of that.

Simon We’re proponents of people using fuel efficiently.

2:41 Sensenbrenner I’m not sure that the committee can suspend by unanimous consent the House rule that prevents other members from participating in the committee.

Markey Under House custom any House rule can be waived by unanimous consent.

Sensenbrenner I object.

Stupak If you were going to object why didn’t you object three hours ago?

Sensenbrenner I move to strike that remark. This wasn’t cleared with the minority.

Markey I apologize for taking your time.

Stupak No need to apologize, what goes around, comes around.

Markey There should be a commitment that you should make. We will not be able to solve this global climate challenge unless you do so. Similarly, consumers will not be able to do this without your focused attention. It is your responsibility to deal with this in a responsible fashion. What you do is up to you. This is the first of many hearings you’re going to have. I am asking you each to deal with that issue. We thank you for your testimony. The hearing is adjourned.


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