Energy & Environment

Russia inflames political war over gas prices, oil drilling 

GOP lawmakers are using rising gasoline prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to attack President Biden’s energy policies, arguing that the administration has failed to improve U.S. energy independence.  

Experts say many of their claims are misleading, noting that administration actions have had little impact at the pump and don’t have much bearing on the conflict abroad.  

Nevertheless, the Republicans’ rhetoric is a likely preview of their midterm argument: that electing Republicans will lead to better U.S. energy policies and lower prices. 

In recent days, Republicans have gone on the attack — flaming Biden over his decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline and pause or delay oil and gas leasing.  

Those joining in on the criticism include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), who have particularly discussed Biden’s move to nix a border crossing permit for the pipeline.  

But, when Biden revoked the permit, the pipeline was only about 8 percent complete, and the company behind it said in 2020 that it didn’t expect the vessel to deliver energy until 2023.  

And experts note that the global nature of energy markets raise serious questions about the merits of the critique. 

“There is little evidence to back up the argument that Keystone XL would have averted some of this price spike. The Keystone pipeline capacity is less than one-tenth of Russian oil exports,” James Glynn, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, told The Hill in an email. 

“Even if Keystone XL was filled with fully additional Canadian export capacity, which would have been an unlikely scenario, it would not balance the global oil markets where the price of oil is set through a global arbitrage of the last marginal available barrel,” Glynn added. 

Canada is the largest U.S. source of foreign oil.  

Republicans have more broadly tried to paint Biden’s climate goals as anti-energy, with the point even coming up during their response to his State of the Union address.  

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) accused Biden of “waiving sanctions on Russian pipelines while limiting oil production here at home,” a reference to the administration’s May waiver of sanctions for the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.  

The GOP has also criticized a 2021 pause on new leasing for oil drilling.  Purchasing a drilling lease is one of several steps that companies have to take in order to drill on publicly owned land or in publicly owned water. 

While that pause was ended after a court ruling against it, the department recently announced delays in both new leasing and permitting in response to a separate court ruling.  

“People will cite the ban of new drilling on federal lands, but there’s plenty of acreage to exploit…in the meantime,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service. 

The Biden administration has also been approving permits to drill at a rate comparable to the Trump administration.  

According to a December analysis from the group Public Citizen, the Biden administration approved an average of 333 land drilling permits per month, higher than the Trump-era averages in 2017, 2018 and 2019.  

Still, the GOP political attacks could resonate with voters weary after months of high prices at the pump.  

Gas prices averaged about $3.73 cents per gallon on Thursday.  

“It’s potentially a potent issue for Republicans because it speaks to two moments that we’re at right now: one is inflation and rising gas prices and two is Russia and Ukraine which is also going to lead to higher gas prices,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.  

He added that this messaging will continue into the midterms. 

“With Keystone, you’ll hear about how it was one of the very first decisions that Biden made and you’ll even hear Republicans occasionally…highlight that those were union jobs,” Heye said.  

And he noted that while that pipeline may not have been slated to be operational yet, its cancellation is part of a pattern of Democratic opposition to expanded oil.  

“The argument that Democrats always make is…it’s just going to take so long,” he said.  “If we had been able to move in [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] in 2003 like Republicans wanted to…that oil would be online right now.” 

But the analysts note that U.S. oil producers have taken a limited approach to drilling, and that Biden can’t simply force them to do more.  

“You can’t blame Joe Biden for the restraint of U.S. producers,” said Antoine Halff, adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.  

“They follow economic incentives and they follow demands from their investors,” added Halff, the former the chief oil analyst at the International Energy Agency.  

And while high oil prices — which were at about $110 per barrel on Thursday — are generally favorable for producers since they can make more money per barrel that they sell, Kloza noted that they may be wary given recent instability in the market. Prices crashed in 2020 amid coronavirus lockdowns.  

“The price of oil is volatile,” Kloza said, adding that there was some “unwillingness” from banks to finance oil because of this. But, he predicted that going forward, private companies are likely to pursue more short-term drilling given the higher price of oil.  

And while Republicans have leaned in on oil and gas, Democrats have likewise been vocally pushing their own energy priorities: clean energy and efficiency measures.  

“If we make our vehicles more efficient, if we make our homes more efficient — that reduces the need for oil and gas regardless of the source,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) told The Hill this week. 


Tags gas prices James Lankford Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Oil prices Russia Sean Casten Ted Cruz Ukraine

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video