House Democrat says oil execs 'throwing up a smoke screen’ amid allegations of price gouging

Energy exec blasts Rep. Khanna for ‘irony’ on oil stance

American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers argues Democratic politicians are continuing to ‘browbeat’ U.S. oil companies. 

Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Wednesday he didn't believe explanations from energy company executives who testified about high gas prices. 

"I think they're throwing up a smoke screen on what is essentially a profiteering situation that's going on," Sarbanes, D-Md., told Fox News Digital. "And it's unfortunate, because the average person, as I said, who's out there at the pump, they're taking a hit. And meanwhile, the oil companies and the executives are making a killing."

Sarbanes, like several Democrats at the hearing, pressed the executives about their companies' profits and whether they had a duty to reduce their prices. The executives emphasized the complexity and global nature of the energy market and how individual companies don't control prices. Sarbanes wasn't satisfied. 

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"There's a lot of hocus-pocus language you can throw up here. I think you need to pass savings along when you realize them," Sarbanes said. 

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., also said the energy executives weren't truly answering questions about how to help Americans. 

"They have not answered the question about … when will the American consumer get some relief?" Rush told Fox News Digital. 

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Republicans at the hearing, "Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America's Pain at the Pump," countered that President Biden and Democrats are responsible for gas prices. 

"They're just trying to blame this thing — take the blame off of the administration," Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., told Fox News Digital after questioning witnesses at the hearing. 

"The [EastMed] pipeline is so very important, and the fact that this administration basically withheld their support after they were supportive of this particular project, it's inconceivable," Bilirakis said. "We don't want people depending on Russian oil or oil from our adversaries. And that's exactly what's going on right now."

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"We're going to fight to reverse course and bring down these prices," Bilirakis added. "And that's how you do it — with domestic production and production from our allies so that we don't have to depend on these foreign countries that are basically not our friends in most cases."

Gas prices are displayed at a gas station March 11, 2022, in Long Beach, Calif.  (AP Photo/Ashley Landis / AP Newsroom)

Rep. John Joyce, R-Pa., said "when Biden came into office … canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, it put a major crimp not only into American energy independence and dominance, but into world energy independence." 

But Joyce also took a more optimistic view of things, arguing the hearing showed how the U.S. has significant geopolitical opportunities because of its domestic energy. 

"This was an important hearing to hold today, because it allowed us to illuminate that we in America have the capabilities of producing additional oil and natural gas that can not only lead to American independence, but American dominance," Joyce said. "If we provide the right infrastructure … we can take those supplies of oil, natural gas and supply our friends and allies in Europe, to sever their dependence on Putin." 

The executives who testified remotely at the hearing were BP America President David Lawler, Chevron Corp. CEO Michael Wirth, Devon Energy CEO Richard Muncrief, Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods, Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield and Shell USA President Gretchen Watkins.

Oil wells outside of Williston, N.D., Aug. 24, 2021. (Tyler Olson/FOX Business / FOXBusiness)

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The executives faced frequent interruptions from Democrats who sought to attack them over their alleged fault for energy prices and occasionally from Republicans who thought the execs' answers were too diplomatic. 

"So, apparently everybody wants to get in the weeds and hide behind words," ranking member H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said at the beginning of the hearing. "The president says he wants to make sure that we do not lower the cost of production. Is that going to make you produce more or less? Mr. Woods, more or less?"

"I think the government has a role in encouraging investment and creating a positive investment climate," Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Darren Woods responded.

Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee 

"And when we create a negative climate you produce less, isn't that true. Yes or no?" Griffith shot back. 

"There tends to be a chilling effect with negative words," Woods said. 

Rush argued Republicans were simply seeking to take advantage of the energy situation to improve their chances in the midterms.

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"With them, it's all about 2022. It's all about the next election, about the midterms," Rush said. "They really want to make essentially a political argument … they don't want to debate on the merits of the suffering of the American people and how we'll really solve their problem. And to me, they're disingenuous … they're only interested in power and control of the Congress."

On Republicans' handling of the hearing, Sarbanes said they were "trying to suggest that somehow the production is being limited by the administration when that's not the case."

"There are 9,000 permits that the oil companies could be using to increase production, and they apparently don't have any interest in doing that," Sarbanes added. 

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