Biden blows oil refiners for record profits on pain at the pump

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden, under pressure over sky-high gasoline prices, on Wednesday demanded oil refineries explain why they are not putting more fuel on the market while reaping unexpected profits.

Biden wrote to executives from Marathon Petroleum Corp (MPC.N), Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), complaining that they had cut back on oil refining to increase profits, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

The letter was also sent to Phillips 66 (PSX.N), Chevron Corp (CVX.N), BP (BP.L) and Shell (SHEL.L), a White House official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

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“In a time of war, the refinery’s profit margins are well above normal, giving directly to American families is not acceptable,” Biden wrote, adding that the lack of refining drove up gas prices faster than oil prices.

Biden said the industry’s lack of action dulled the administration’s attempts to offset the impact of oil – rich Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, such as emissions from US oil reserves and the addition of more ethanol to gasoline.

The energy companies have had large profits since the invasion, which contributed to a supply squeeze that led to crude oil prices exceeding $ 100 per barrel. Fuel demand has remained robust despite record high petrol prices.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said refiners have a “patriotic duty” to increase supplies and cut consumer costs.

“We ask them to do the right thing, to be patriots here,” she told reporters.

The US refining capacity peaked in April 2020 at just under 19 million barrels per day (bpd), when prices fell during the pandemic and refineries closed several unprofitable plants. As of March, the refining capacity was 17.9 million bpd, but other closures have been announced since then.

US refineries are running at almost peak levels to process fuel – currently at 94% of capacity. They say there is little they can do to quickly satisfy Biden’s demands.

“Our refineries are in full swing,” said Bruce Niemeyer, executive director of strategy and sustainability at Chevron, on the sidelines of a Reuters energy transition conference on Tuesday, before the letter was published.

Shell “produces with capacity” and is looking at alternatives to increase oil and petrol production, a spokesman said.

Exxon, in focus of the president’s outrage against oil companies last week, has invested to expand its refining capacity by 250,000 bpd, equivalent to a medium-sized refinery, said spokesman Todd Spitler.

Gasoline prices above $ 6.00 are announced at a 76 Station in Santa Monica, California, USA, May 26, 2022. REUTERS / Lucy Nicholson

Spitler said the administration could in the short term repeal the Jones Act provisions that force domestic shippers to use U.S.-flagged vessels engaged in union work, or waive fuel regulations.

The US government has waived the summer ban on the use of cheaper, smog-causing fuel components in emergencies. The administration recently used emergency force to lift the ban on gasoline with higher blends of ethanol.

Phillips 66, Valero and Marathon Petroleum said they would work with the administration. Chevron and BP did not immediately comment.


Biden has escalated its rhetoric against oil companies as pump prices have plummeted to record highs above $ 5 per gallon. read more

Privately, White House officials have asked refiners about idling facilities and spare capacity and whether there are other ways to increase gasoline supplies, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

Rising gas prices have contributed to unexpectedly sustained consumer price inflation and voter sentiment before the midterm elections on November 8, when Biden’s Democratic Party defends its control over Congress. read more

Biden has attributed rising oil prices primarily to US-led sanctions that took Russian energy supplies from the global market.

He has also accused large oil companies of driving rising energy prices to record revenues, giving profits to investors instead of using new drilling and refining capacity.

“Exxon made more money than God this year,” Biden said last week, after the major’s first-quarter profit doubled from the previous year to $ 5.48 billion. read more

Exxon’s Spitler said the top US producer has invested more than $ 50 billion over the past five years, resulting in a nearly 50% increase in US oil production.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm plans to host a crisis meeting on how refiners can respond to higher prices, said Biden, and asks oil companies to come up with “concrete ideas” to increase oil refining and explain why they may have cut such capacity in the last two the years. .

Granholm has requested a meeting with the refinery’s managers no later than 21 June, two sources who are familiar with the request state.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jarrett Renshaw, David Gaffen, Ron Bousso and Gary McWilliams; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama, Heather Timmons, Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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