Big Oil CEOs refuse to commit to reduce buybacks and dividends

During a hearing, Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, asked the top executives of exxonmobile (XOM)Chevron, BP, Shell, Pioneer Natural Resources and Devon Energy if they pledged to “do whatever it takes,” including not only increasing production, but also cutting dividends and buying back lower prices for American consumers.
The questions echoed a letter from House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Ro Khanna this week calling on major companies to scrap their buybacks and dividends during the Ukraine war and Instead, they will lower prices for consumers.

None of the executives agreed to do so.

US oil production remains below pre-Covid levels even as oil prices have almost doubled.

“We can increase production and return value to shareholders,” Chevron (CLC) CEO Mike Wirth said in response. PA (PA) Americas CEO David Lawler said he “cannot commit” to cutting buybacks and dividends.
Gretchen Watkins, President of shell (RDSA) USA, said his company believes it can return value to shareholders, increase oil supply and invest in renewable energy. “We’ll do all of that,” Watkins said.
And Scott Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD), said his company will increase production, but flatly refused to cut dividends. “The answer is no to dividends,” Sheffield said.

Lawmakers responded with strong complaints, suggesting that executives should focus squarely on shareholders, particularly during the war in Ukraine.

“During this Russian war, the American people are being ripped off and it must end,” said California Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz, who also referenced a recent Dallas Fed poll in which 59% of oil executives said that pressure from investors to maintain capital discipline is the main reason why publicly traded oil producers are restraining growth.

“Gasoline prices cannot continue to depend on the whims of autocrats like Putin, who can turn oil into a weapon against us,” Ruiz said.

Pallone, meanwhile, said oil companies are spending $45 billion on share buybacks plus another $40 billion in dividends.

“That’s a lot of money for shareholders, but it’s at the expense of the American people, who need it to increase production, not shareholder wealth,” Pallone said. “For the American people to have relief from high gasoline prices, their businesses must do their part and increase production to meet demand.”

But it’s not that simple, Sheffield said during the hearing. He noted that the oil industry faces challenges like many other sectors: worker shortages, lack of supplies and price increases, all of which have diminished its ability to boost production.

“We’re seeing severe supply constraints. We’re short on equipment. The reason we can’t grow faster is that we’re short on rigs,” Sheffield said. “We are seeing severe inflation … and we will continue to see severe inflation for years to come.”

The Pioneer CEO added that companies are struggling to hire workers, echoing concerns expressed by other industries.

“Who wants to go back and work in the oil and gas industry? We can’t get people back,” Sheffield said, noting that the 2020 oil bust was the latest in a series of downturns in the booming industry. drop.

Cut ties with Russia

New York Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko has criticized oil and gas companies for their investments in Russia since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, arguing that such projects have “helped finance Putin’s war chest.”

Woods, the CEO of Exxon, reiterated that his company plans to finish its final project in Russia, a promise he made a month ago.

“It’s quite complex because we are operating offshore platforms in deep water and environmentally sensitive areas,” Woods said during the hearing. “We’re working to get past that as quickly as possible.”

When asked if Exxon’s investments in Russia are in the best interests of the United States, the CEO cited bipartisan support over the years for those ties.

“Both Democratic and Republican administrations have encouraged our investments as a way to bring Western values ​​to Russia and benefit the Russian people,” Woods said.

Wirth, the CEO of Chevron, was asked to commit to ending all operations in Russia, including the supply of lubricants and other materials to Russian companies.

“We’ve stopped all of those sales, and for the foreseeable future, there’s no way they’re going to resume,” Wirth said.

BP America’s Lawler said that within 96 hours of the invasion, his company announced its intention to exit its stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft, taking a writedown of up to $25 billion.

“BP was appalled at the military action in the war against Ukraine,” Lawler said. “The company takes our response very seriously.”

Watkins said Shell is moving “as quickly as possible” to fully divest from Russia.

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