US President Joe Biden called Wednesday on US energy companies to increase oil production and to lower retail gasoline prices as he announced a new release from strategic US reserves in a bid to decrease fuel prices.
“Families are hurting,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.
High fuel prices are hurting the US economy and feeding voter anger at the administration three weeks before midterm elections to decide control of Congress.
Biden has struggled to find solutions to a problem rooted in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the recent decision by the Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel to cut its own oil production.
Biden said his order to release the final 15 million barrels of a 180 million barrel pledge from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would “continue to stabilize markets and decrease the prices at a time when the actions of other countries have caused such volatility.”
However, he also urged the US oil industry to get more oil out of the ground, insisting this did not counter his presidency’s priority of pushing the United States into a clean energy future.
“We need to responsibly increase American oil production without delaying or deferring our transition to clean energy,” he said.
In addition to urging a boost in production, Biden repeated his frequent call for fuel companies to lower prices paid by motorists, arguing that prices at the pump are not declining in step with overall drops in the price of crude oil.
“My message to the American energy companies is this: you should not be using your profits to buy back stock or for dividends, not now — not while a war’s raging,” he said.
“You should be using these record-breaking profits to increase production and refining. Invest in America for the American people — bring down the price,” he said.
Biden confirmed he was putting the final 15 million barrels on the market from a record release of US strategic oil reserves, with more releases possible if energy prices spike.
“We’re going to continue to responsibly use that national asset,” he said.
The decision to make the biggest-ever dip into the emergency oil reserves – usually kept for responding to situations such as hurricane-related shutdowns at oil refineries — was one of the few tools Biden has to make a direct impact on oil supplies.
About 400 million barrels remain in the strategic reserves, officials say, and this will be topped up when prices dip far enough.
Major energy exporter Russia was hit with US and European sanctions soon after it invaded Ukraine in February, causing market turmoil.
In addition, the Kremlin has threatened to use its leverage over energy supplies as an economic weapon against the West, which supports Ukraine’s fight to repel the invasion.
For Biden there are serious domestic concerns, with gasoline prices at one point averaging more than $5 a gallon, causing nationwide anger. While prices have since moderated, inflation remains the biggest factor driving Republican hopes of defeating the Democrats in November’s midterm legislative elections.