The White House energy adviser has described as “un-American” the refusal of US shale investors to increase drilling, even as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine wreaks havoc on global oil and gas markets.
US oil groups have been under pressure from Wall Street to return record profits to investors this year, despite repeated calls from President Joe Biden to pump more oil to help tame rampant inflation.
“I think the idea that financiers would tell companies in the United States not to increase production and to buy back shares and increase dividends when profits are at their peak is outrageous,”[ads1]; said Amos Hochstein, President Biden’s international energy envoy. “It’s not only un-American, it’s so unfair to the American public.
“You want to pay dividends, pay dividends. You want to pay shareholders, pay shareholders. You want to get bonuses, do that too. You can do all this and still invest more. We ask you to increase production and seize the moment.”
Hochstein’s comments came just days after the questionable launch of an EU embargo on Russian oil imports by sea and a G7 price cap on the country’s oil in an attempt by Western powers to curb Kremlin revenues while crude flows to the global market.
Moscow has repeatedly vowed not to sell oil to countries that comply with the limit. On Friday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would “even think . . . about a possible cut in production”.
Hochstein said the Kremlin remained a threat to a “highly volatile” oil market and noted that Russia had repeatedly weaponized energy, including cutting gas supplies to Germany this year.
“I think about it all the time,” he said, referring to the Russian threat to stop oil exports. “But that risk exists with or without a price cap.”
Oil prices have fluctuated wildly this year, rising after Russia’s invasion to nearly $140 a barrel in March, prompting the White House to release crude stored in emergency storage in an effort to cool inflation.
Prices have fallen in recent days on fears of a global recession, with international benchmark Brent hitting a year-to-date low of $76.10 a barrel on Friday.
But further turmoil in global energy was likely, particularly in Europe’s gas market, as the distance between Putin and the West deepened, Hochstein said.
While an “unprecedented” effort by the US and other liquefied natural gas exporters had left Europe sufficiently fueled for this winter, the loss of Russian pipeline imports would mean repeating the effort “winter after winter”, Hochstein warned.
Additional global LNG supplies would not arrive until facilities being built in the US and Qatar came online later this decade, meaning “the mountain to climb [to build] the gas stocks for next year are much higher”.
“We prepare and live from an energy perspective, in Europe and beyond, hand to mouth, step by step [way]Hochstein said.
The long-term solution was not to invest in more natural gas supply, but to cut fossil fuel consumption itself, argued Hochstein, a former LNG executive.
“We have to peak the demand [for hydrocarbons] and then shrink it from there, Hochstein said.
The Biden adviser’s comments will spark a reaction in the U.S. shale sector, which has complained about mixed signals from a White House that has called for more fossil fuel production while also talking about cutting demand and accelerating a shift away from oil and gas .
But Hochstein denied any contradiction, saying the U.S. could “do two things at the same time, and make sure we have enough [oil] supply for a strong global economy, while accelerating the energy transition”.
Oil will remain useful to the economy for several years, he said, adding that the Biden administration itself would become a major buyer of crude oil to replenish a federal stockpile when U.S. oil prices fell to around $70 a barrel.
Hochstein also criticized ExxonMobil’s $50bn share buyback plan, announced last week – a payout Chief Darren Woods recently described as returning some money “directly to the American people”.
“The only thing worse than announcing a stock buyback is saying this is how you give profits back to the American people,” Hochstein said. “If you want to give back to the American people, invest in America, its workers . . . increase manufacturing, [make] America less dependent on other countries.”