Republican elected officials across the US are criticizing President Joe Biden over his energy policies and urging his administration to do more to ramp up domestic production as a way to help wean the nation and its allies off oil from Russia.
The sanctions imposed on Russia for its war with Ukraine so far do not include oil and gas exports from the country, a step that would severely hurt Russia’s ability to generate revenue.
Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and Ohio’s GOP US Sen. Rob Portman urged Biden this week to take steps to stop oil imports from Russia to the US, where drilling for oil and gas actually increased during Biden’s first year in office.
“The recent events in Ukraine are yet another example of why we should be selling energy to our friends and not buying it from our enemies,” Stitt wrote to Biden.
A similar letter urging Biden to immediately institute an embargo on all Russian energy exports was sent to the president by US Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and US Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall of Kansas.
The US gets 5% to 10% of its crude oil and refined products from Russia, a fairly small share that it could probably replace with other sources if Russian supply was cut off, said Jacques Rousseau, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners.
“It’s not as big a deal for the US as it is globally, because there are other countries that are much more reliant on Russian oil,” he said.
The US does not import gas from Russia, but Europe relies on natural gas from Russia for a third of its supply.
Portman said it doesn’t make sense to import Russian oil after the Biden administration shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline as part of its wider efforts to combat climate change and its worsening effects. The pipeline would have transported 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to US refineries along the Gulf Coast.
“So, here we are cutting off our own North American energy supply while helping Russia by buying their oil,” Portman said.
In the Republican response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds referenced the desire for the US to increase production and gain energy independence.
Biden has defended his decision to preserve access to Russian energy in order “to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.” But when asked Wednesday whether he would consider banning Russian oil imports, Biden responded: “Nothing is off the table.”
Oil prices soared this week in response to Russia’s escalating war on Ukraine, increasing pressure on persistently high inflation across the world. US benchmark crude oil jumped past $110 per barrel on Wednesday, the biggest single-day jump since May 2020 and the highest price since 2014. Brent crude, the international standard, surged 7.1% to $104.97.
The crisis in Ukraine prompted an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday of the International Energy Agency’s board, which resulted in all 31 member countries agreeing to release 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves — half of that from the United States — “to send a strong message to oil markets” that supplies won’t fall short.
Despite the Republican criticism, drilling for oil and gas in the US has actually increased since Biden took office, mainly due to increasing demand for fuel as the economy recovers from pandemic restrictions.
Natural gas production grew 2% in 2021, Biden’s first year in office, compared to the previous year, when Republican Donald Trump was in office. Exports of liquefied natural gas grew 42% in the first six months of 2021, compared to the same timeframe the year before, according to the US Energy Information Administration. In late January of this year, oil production was up slightly compared to the same time a year ago.
The reasons vary. Companies cut back on drilling for oil and gas at the start of the pandemic, and many have not returned to their pre-pandemic drilling levels despite higher demand. That’s partly because investors have been pressing public companies to focus more on transitioning to renewable or cleaner energy sources. Companies that want to increase drilling for oil and gas are having a hard time finding rigs, trucks and workers.
Nevertheless, Republicans are calling for an expansion of oil and gas production as a security concern for the US and its allies.
On Monday, 25 state attorneys general, led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, wrote a letter opposing the Biden administration’s proposed rule to ban the transport of liquified natural gas by rail care in the US The letter also criticized Biden’s order to pause new oil and natural gas leases on public land or in offshore waters.
Landry added that the freeze on new leasing and drilling permits on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico deprives Louisiana and other states, mainly in the West, of revenue from lease payments, royalties and rentals. Roughly a quarter of US oil production and about 10 percent of its natural gas production comes from federal land.
In New Mexico, and its portion of the sprawling Permian Basin oilfield that has bolstered US energy output over the past decade, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasing the impatience with federal delays on new oil and gas drilling on federal land.
New Mexico state Sen. Gay Kernan, a Republican and the daughter of an oil producer, said the Biden administration’s policies are restricting new oilfield investments even if current production is robust.
“It’s just such bad timing when Europe needs our energy,” she said. “We could provide the energy to Europe in a massive way, but you have to have the infrastructure in place and you have to be able to produce the natural gas.”
But our ability to export liquefied natural gas to Europe is limited, because our export facilities are already operating at capacity.
New Mexico is a major source of natural gas and overtook North Dakota last year as the No. 2 oil producer in the US, behind Texas.
This picture, too, is more complicated. Biden suspended new oil and gas leases on federal land when he took office, but a judge blocked that decision and drilling on public lands actually accelerated. And months before Biden was sworn in, oil and gas producers were stockpiling permits to be able to drill on federal land in anticipation of policies that would favor renewable energy.
In Utah, where more than half the land is federally owned, Republican state Senate President Stuart Adams said on Twitter that the state should be able to share its “ample natural gas” with allies of the US
“We can not rely on Russia for energy when we can produce it ourselves,” he added.
Bussewitz reported from New York. Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Colleen Long in Washington, DC; Lindsay Whitehurst and Samuel Metz in Salt Lake City; and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.