Cutting Oil Subsidies Discriminatory: Conoco CEO

James Mulva
James Mulva

ConocoPhillips Chief Executive James Mulva said cutting subsidies to the five biggest U.S. oil companies is discriminatory, will keep prices up and hinder job growth.

"To selectively target five of the largest oil and gas companies in the United States and take [incentives] away is discriminatory and inconsistent with how our country applies tax policy," he told CNBC Thursday.

He backed off a bit from a Conoco press release issued before Thursday's Senate Finance Committee hearing that called cutting the incentives "unAmerican," which infuriated several Senate Democrats, including Charles Schumer of New York, at the hearing.

Many Democrats are pushing to scale back $2 billion a year in tax breaks to Conoco, Exxon Mobil, Chevron , BP and Royal Dutch Shell ,at a time when the national average price for gasoline is $4 a gallon.

Mulva told CNBC removing the incentives, which include credits on foreign earnings taxes, would be the same as a corporate tax increase, and that would cut into Conoco's ability to fund new technologies and hire more workers.

The Conoco chief said his company is among the "highest tax payers" in the U.S. at a 47 percent rate, and "we do reinvest back into the business." While consumers may be mad at the oil companies for the price at the pump, the companies have no direct control over what is paid.

However, he said that if oil companies are allowed to greatly expand their drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska and throughout the vast U.S. government lands now off-limits to them, more oil and gas could be developed, more people would be working and the increased supply would bring down the price.

"If we don’t increase the supply, we don’t have the opportunity and the benefit to lower the prices," he said.