High Gas Prices Mean Record Profits for Big Oil

But analysts say speculators, not oil companies, to blame for gas prices.

ByABC News
April 24, 2011, 6:25 PM

April 24, 2011— -- While many Americans are seething at gas prices, which have hit $5 per gallon in parts of the country, big oil companies are expected to report significant first quarter profits later this week.

Analysts say they expect the world's largest non-government controlled oil company, Exxon, to report a staggering $10 billion profit -- a 60 percent increase.

Shell is expected to post a healthy 22.2 percent gain, translating to $5.9 billion for the company, which is right on par with competitor Chevron's profits.

It's enough to make people grappling with how to survive the pain at the pump furious.

"We're the ones getting shafted," said Jack Foley, a New York City driver.

But experts say you shouldn't cast blame on big oil -- they're not responsible for setting the price.

The real culprit, said Samantha Gross, an energy analyst at IHS Global, are speculators in the oil futures market who bid the prices up, hedging their pocketbooks on the belief that conflict will get worse in the Middle East.

"The Sunoco and Exxons can't do much about that," Gross said. "It's good for them when they're high, but they don't have much ability to change them."

It's something President Obama is taking on, after his approval ratings slipped to 47 percent, largely due to discontent over gas prices, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll.

"The truth is, there's no silver bullet that can bring gas prices down right away," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

At a town hall meeting last week in Reno, Nev., Obama announced a new Justice Department task force, headed by Attorney General Eric Holder, that will investigate any allegations of fraud in the gas speculation market.

The president is also calling for an elimination of $4 billion in what he says are essentially subsidies for big oil companies.

"We're going to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain," he said.