(Bloomberg) — Tensions between President Joe Biden and the oil industry are intensifying, stoked by Chevron Corp (NYSE:).’s decision to repurchase $75 billion of shares and boost dividend payouts instead of plowing that money into new drilling.
The renewed acrimony comes as big oil companies are set to report almost $200 billion in collective earnings and alongside climbing gasoline prices that are exacerbating economic pain for consumers already suffering from high inflation.
Chevron is set to report a record $37 billion profit for 2022, more than double its return in the previous year, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE:). is expected to post a gain of $57.6 billion, and refiner Valero Energy Corp (NYSE:). on Thursday reported record annual earnings, while distributing to shareholders nearly half of its $13.8 billion in cash generated by operating activities.
The White House excoriated Chevron’s buyback announcement on Wednesday, suggesting the oil company should be steering more of its profits toward boosting its output instead of rewarding shareholders. Chevron’s buyback package is so large it could fund more than four years of drilling and other projects at the company’s present pace of expenditures.
“For a company that claimed not too long ago that it was ‘working hard’ to increase oil production, handing out $75 billion to executives and wealthy shareholders sure is an odd way to show it,” White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said in an emailed statement. “We continue to call on oil companies to use their record profits to increase supply and reduce costs for the American people.”
Related: Big Oil faces headwinds after record $199 billion profit haul
The latest White House criticism underscores a challenging political reality facing the president, who has limited power to rein in gasoline prices that have rallied since late December as a winter storm shuttered production capacity on the Gulf Coast and as heavier-than-usual refinery maintenance curbed supplies.
“In tight markets, when approval ratings fall and industry profits rise, elected officials can see campaigning against pump prices as easier than fixing them,” said Kevin Book managing director of ClearView Energy Partners.
Biden last year took historic efforts to arrest prices at the pump by unleashing 180 million barrels of crude from the nation’s emergency oil reserves. But he has struggled to convince oil companies to dramatically boost spending on new drilling, following devastating losses during the pandemic and renewed vows of capital discipline. And industry officials, in turn, blame the Biden administration for anti—oil rhetoric and a suite of green policies that discourage new investments in fossil fuel production.
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