Making a Killing: Big Oil Reaps Record Profits Using Ukraine War as Pretext to Hike Gas Prices

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers grilled executives from some of the largest oil and gas companies Wednesday, accusing them of price gouging consumers even as they rake in record profits. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee accused fossil fuel executives of exploiting the pandemic and the war in Ukraine to pad their bottom lines. This is Committee Chair California [sic] Democrat Diana DeGette — Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette.

REP. DIANA DeGETTE: If the price of gas is driven by the global market, why is the price of oil coming down, but the price at the pump is still near record highs? If it’s an issue of supply and demand, wouldn’t that be reflected in the global price of oil, as well? Something just doesn’t add up.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Colorado Democrat DeGette. Meanwhile, Republicans used Wednesday’s hearing on high gas prices to support the Big Oil companies. This is Republican Ohio Congressmember Bill Johnson.

REP. BILL JOHNSON: For heaven’s sakes, they’re blaming you for high gas prices, for inflation, for bad weather and all the world’s problems that their failed policies are actually causing. Your industry has a lot to be proud of.

AMY GOODMAN: Executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BPAmerica, Shell USA and other companies testified virtually during the hearing, even though they were invited to appear in person. ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods claimed the solution to higher prices at the pump is to increase oil and gas production.

DARREN WOODS: Today Russia provides roughly 10% of the oil needed to meet global demand and about 30% of Europe’s natural gas demand. A loss of this volume will be much more significant than the impact of the oil — Arab oil embargo and would represent the largest supply disruption in the history of our industry. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. But in the near term, the answer is straightforward: If we want to reduce prices, we need to increase supply.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as a new report by Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen and BailoutWatch looked at the financial records of ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and others and found they’ve increased stock buybacks and dividends since Russia invaded Ukraine, enriching investors instead of reducing oil and gas prices for consumers. BailoutWatch data analyst Christopher Kuveke said, quote, “The actions of these oil executives make it clear that no matter how much they groan about the Biden Administration’s environmental policies and blame Putin for high prices, their focus remains entirely on lining their own pockets,” he said.

For more, we’re joined by two guests: Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist, founder of Third Act, which organizes people over 60 for progressive change, also co-founded 350.org, and, in Ukraine, we’re joined by Svitlana Romanko, the Ukrainian climate activist and longtime environmental lawyer, who wrote a Los Angeles [Times] op-ed with McKibben last month headlined “The Ukraine war is a decision point — banks should stop funding the fossil fuel industry forever.”

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Bill McKibben, let’s begin with you and the Big Oil hearing. What was your takeaway?

BILL McKIBBEN: Look, it’s almost sickening to sit and watch Exxon executives talk like that. You don’t need much imagination or much memory to recall that Darren Woods’ predecessor, Rex Tillerson, was such a friend of Vladimir Putin’s that Putin literally pinned a medal on him, the Order of Friendship, at Putin’s dacha outside Moscow, because Exxon was perfectly willing, knowing just what kind of regime Putin was running, to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in trying to get at Arctic oil, that they could only get at because they had already melted the Arctic. That’s the kind of — and it, of course, goes on and on and on. The Koch brothers, our biggest oil and gas barons, who are still doing business in Russia right now, I mean, they got their start — the family fortune was founded building refineries for Stalin. So their protestations ring completely hollow, especially because they know what the alternative is. The alternative is the rapid deployment of renewable energy, just as the IPCC report called for earlier this week.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I think most people, if asked, “Why are the gas prices going through the roof?” Bill, they would say, “Oh, it’s because of the war in Ukraine.” But the fact that the oil companies are using this crisis to record unprecedented profits, they’re in fact lifting these prices not because of the war in Ukraine; they’re just using it as a cover.

BILL McKIBBEN: Does that surprise you, Amy, given what you know about the role of the oil industry in our history? I mean, these are predatory companies that have used every excuse — and this is one of the grossest — to try and increase their profit margins. And right now the fact that they’re padding their profits on the back — I mean, this is the definition of a windfall profit. It’s not like they did something new this year that should get them, you know, higher profit. The only new thing that happened was that Vladimir Putin, who they’ve been encouraging and building up for decades, launched a brutal war in Ukraine, and now they’re the ones that are making literally a killing, while people like Svitlana, you know, sit there and absorb the bombs as they come in one after another.

AMY GOODMAN: And, very quickly, how about Whitehouse’s proposal — not the White House, but Senator Whitehouse’s proposal — to institute the — to try to get passed the Windfall Tax Act, that would make these CEOs pay a price?

BILL McKIBBEN: Yes, I was reading Jamie Henn’s analysis just today, and it looks like that would send back about $250 to every American to help them deal with that. And just as importantly, it would take some of that excess money out of the hands of the fossil fuel industry, because what do they use it for? They use it to buy Congress. Remember, Joe Manchin, who’s single-handedly held up any work on climate change throughout the Biden administration, is the biggest recipient of those fossil fuel dollars, which are dirty, top to bottom.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Svitlana Romanko into this conversation, joining us from western Ukraine, longtime climate activist and environmental lawyer. Svitlana, when you hear — I doubt you had a chance, being in Ukraine, to watch the hearing in the U.S. Congress yesterday, but the U.S. CEOs admitting they are making record profits right now. Your response as they use the war in Ukraine partially as an excuse?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Oh, yes. But I believe, I am truly sure, that we are approaching the stage and approaching the era when social license for these fossil fuel companies and industries will be quickly dismantled. And I believe that we are at the very tipping point for that, because record profits that they’ve made over the past years are not accepted with the civil society and even some governments anymore, so they will need to stop. At the very same moment I am talking with you here, the European Parliament deputies, the major deputies — major number of those deputies have just voted for a full embargo on Russian oil and gas immediately, demanding that from the EU country states. So the progress is ongoing. And I believe, along with the dismantling and ending Putin’s horrific war against Ukraine, we will dismantle the system that enables this fossil fuel industry to overprofit on human lives and infrastructure destruction.

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