Senate Still Looking at Mergers

Major Oil executives decline request to testify at hearing

WASHINGTON -- Officials from six major oil companies have refused to testify this week at a Senate hearing looking into whether oil industry mergers in recent years have made gasoline more expensive at the pump, said Reuters.

With oil companies reporting record profits from higher energy prices, consumer groups have complained that mergers in the industry have stifled competition. As has been reported, ExxonMobil said it earned $10.7 billion in fourth-quarter 2005 and $36.1 billion for all of 2005.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, [image-nocss] which is holding the hearing today, said it asked representatives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Valero and the U.S. units of BP and Royal Dutch Shell to tell their side of the story.

All declined the invitation to testify, the committee said in a statement on Monday, without providing details.

The companies, with the exception of Valero, were put on the hot seat at a Senate hearing last November on what were perceived to be the industry's extremely high profits at the time and high energy prices.

Concerning Valero's decision not to participate, spokesperson Mary Rose Brown said, We did not feel there wassufficient time to prepare a thorough response.

But she told CSP Daily News, As you know, we have a good story to tell, having added 380,000 [barrels per day] of capacity since 1997, and with another 400,000 bpd of capacity planned over the next five years. In total, that's the equivalent of building aboutsix world-scale refineries. And, of course, we have taken many underperforming refineries that were down more than they were uplike St. Charles & Arubaand turned them into safe, reliable refineries. Without consolidation, these expansions and improvements would not have taken place.

ExxonMobil spokesperson Mark D. Boudreaux said, "Itis somewhat unfair to characterize this as declining to attend' given the very short notice we were given for a CEO appearance. ExxonMobil was asked to participate in this hearing with four business days notice. Our chairman is overseas on critical business, and we could not make participation work with such short notice. We are focused on trying to develop more oil and gas resources to provide energy for our customers.

Scott Dean, spokesperson for BP, told CSP Daily News, We responded that our executive was unable to participate due to prior commitments and conflicts with his travel schedule.

Shell spokesperson Destin Singleton said Shell "was contacted just a few days ago with a request to attend the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. [President John Hofmeister] declined to participate because his schedule is full and, at this late date, could not be rearranged."

Representatives for the other oil companies did not respond by presstime.

Bill Kovacic, a member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is scheduled to testify at the hearing. The FTC is investigation whether oil companies manipulated gasoline prices and oil refining production levels. The agency plans to finish its probe and send its findings to Congress this May.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will also testify.