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Big oil kept gas prices high as crude oil prices dropped

© iStock - wingedwolf
Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) After the price of crude oil plummeted to $75 a barrel, which marked the lowest price since December of last year, big oil companies kept consumer gas prices artificially high around the nation, according to new analysis by Accountable.US.

Chris Marshall, research manager for the group, said instead of passing cost savings down to consumers who have been paying high prices for months, big oil has continued to line the pockets of its wealthy shareholders and executives.

"While prices at the pump have been hurting American families, oil and gas companies are making record-shattering profits," Marshall pointed out. "Just in the first three quarters, 24 companies made $343 billion."

Marshall noted it represents a 126 percent increase in profits over the same time period last year. In testimony before Congress, oil and gas executives said they are increasing energy output, which should ease demand. Some CEOs put the blame for the sluggish pace of lowering prices at the pump on local retailers the oil companies do not own or control.

After the price of spot crude dropped by 38 percent compared with the peak price set in June, the average price of gasoline actually went up by 8 percent, from $3.28 a gallon, to $3.54 a gallon.

Marshall hopes to see political leaders make consumers whole by following Great Britain's lead. It recently imposed a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies.

"An important piece of that is accountability for the oil and gas industry," Marshall argued. "I think a windfall profits tax would be badly needed if we hope to stop the blatant price gouging of American consumers from the biggest oil and gas companies."

Marshall noted in addition to monitoring the price of crude and retail gas prices, his group also monitors SEC-mandated earnings calls of top oil and gas companies. He added across the board, CEOs have been boasting about record profits linked to high gas prices, and investors continue to push for distributions.

In the first nine months of this year, 21 oil and gas companies gave more than $107 billion to shareholders through dividend payouts and stock buybacks.