Oil company brass were called on the carpet yesterday to explain to U.S. a U.S. senate hearing why gas prices don’t constitute gouging. The heads of five major oil companies defended the petroleum industry’s huge profits at the Senate hearing. There is a “growing suspicion” that oil companies are taking unfair advantage of people, said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) as the hearing opened, the Associated Press reported. The companies owe the country an explanation, Domenici said. Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp., said he recognizes that high gasoline prices have strained Americans’ budgets, but defended his company’s record profits, saying petroleum earnings rise and fall from year to year, AP said. ExxonMobil, the worlds’ largest privately-owned oil company, earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter. CEOs of Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP America and Shell Oil USA also testified at the hearing, AP reported. Together the companies earned more than $25 billion in profits in the July-September quarter as the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline surged to record levels after the disruptions of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, AP said.