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Is ExxonMobil to Blame for High Gas Prices?

ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) has drawn its share of critics over the years. Most recently, President Biden blamed the oil giant for the high prices Americans are paying at the pump these days. The president scolded the oil giant for using its oil profits to enrich investors instead of drilling more oil wells to ease the burden on the American consumer.

Exxon took a stand against this criticism. It set the record straight and offered some potential solutions that could help address the financial strain many Americans feel when they pump gas these days.

Punch and counter punch

In a recent speech, President Biden blamed Exxon for surging gas prices, a factor fueling inflation’s surge to a new 40-year record. The president stated: “We’re going to make sure everyone knows Exxon’s profits. Exxon made more money than God last year.” The president urged the company to use more of its oil profits to boost its production instead of using that money to repurchase shares

Exxon took steps to set the record straight. In a press release, the oil giant pointed out that it has invested more than any other company to develop U.S. oil and gas supplies. It has spent $50 billion over the past five years, which has boosted its U.S. production by nearly 50% during that period.

Exxon further noted that it had invested well in excess of its oil profits over the past five years. The company reported that it spent $118 billion on new oil and gas supplies when it generated just $55 billion of net income. Furthermore, the company noted that when oil prices crashed in 2020, it lost more than $20 billion. It had to borrow more than $30 billion to maintain its investment level so it could increase its capacity when demand bounced back following the pandemic.

Exxon further pointed out that it has invested in increasing its U.S. refining capacity by 250,000 barrels per day. That’s equivalent to adding a new medium-sized refinery for a country that hasn’t constructed a new one since the 1970s, and it probably won’t ever build another new one in the future because of the pivot to cleaner alternative energy sources.

Exxon’s plan to ease the pain at the pump

Exxon did more than defend its record. The oil giant offered solutions that could help address the problem and bring down prices at the pump. In the short term, the company called on the U.S. government to enact measures it often takes following a hurricane and other supply disruptions to relieve pressure on the system. These include waiving the Jones Act — a century-old law requiring that goods transported between U.S. ports be on ships built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens — and some fuel specifications. Temporarily waiving the Jones Act would increase shipping competition, reducing fuel transportation rates. Meanwhile, temporary waivers on some fuel specifications would allow refiners to produce more refined products. 

Exxon also said the country could take longer-term actions to keep down prices at the pump by setting a clear policy to promote new oil and gas investments. That includes regular and predictable lease sales, streamlined regulatory approval, and support for infrastructure such as new pipelines.

The current administration has made it much harder for oil companies to operate. The president campaigned on the promise to end drilling on federal land. His administration initially halted new lease sales before reversing that policy earlier this year. That set the industry back, since it will take six months to a year before they can produce additional supplies from those leases. The president also fulfilled a campaign promise to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline that would have moved oil from Canada to refineries in the United States.

The uncertainty surrounding future leasing and infrastructure has forced many smaller oil companies to be more cautious about investing in expanding their oil and gas production. Instead of drilling more wells and running the risk of running out of drillable land or not having the infrastructure to support their output, they’re wise financial stewards by returning a larger portion of their profits to shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends.

Exxon isn’t the reason gas prices are high

Exxon isn’t causing the problem behind the run-up in prices at the pump. Instead, it continues to work toward being part of the solution in meeting the country’s energy needs. Exxon has continued investing in expanding its oil and gas business despite the challenges it has faced over the past several years. 

Those investments are finally paying dividends for the company’s long-suffering shareholders this year through surging oil profits. It’s being a wise steward of that capital by returning it to shareholders instead of risking that money on capital projects that might never pay off. Being a good caretaker of investor capital is an excellent trait for a company because it increases the probability that it can grow value for its shareholders over the long term. 

Matthew DiLallo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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