Record profits that major oil companies reported this week are prompting demands from politicians in both parties for an investigation into consumer gouging as gasoline prices spiked after the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
ExxonMobil Corp. reported $10 billion in net income in the third quarter, the largest ever by a U.S. energy company.
ExxonMobil's earnings announcement that profits rose 75 percent from last year followed a BP announcement of $6.5 billion in profits, up 34 percent and ConocoPhillips reporting its income grew to $3.8 billion, up 89 percent.
Shortly after the Exxon Mobil announcement, while he was standing on the floor of the New York Stock Exhange, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called for congressional hearings and investigation into oil company profiteering.
"If there are those who abuse the free enterprise system to advantage themselves and their businesses at the expense of all Americans, they ought to be exposed, and they ought to be ashamed," Frist said.
Politicians are taking aim at big oil as public opinion surveys find consumers across the country up in arms about energy costs.
The petroleum industry is urging a cautious attitude in Congress amid all the accusations of price gouging.
An American Petroleum Institute analysis asserts that the massive increase in earnings simply reflects the size of the oil industry. API insists that oil industry earnings, when measured against sales, are in line with other industries' earnings the last five years.