President Joe Biden reiterated his ire toward oil industry officials, verbally sparring with Chevron Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth just days before administration officials and oil executives are set to discuss how to bring down gasoline prices.
Wirth earlier called on Biden to stop criticizing the oil and gas industry and for a “change in approach” toward US energy policy in a rare, candid letter published Tuesday. Biden responded by calling the executive “mildly sensitive” and telling reporters at a White House press conference, “I didn’t know they’d get their feelings hurt that quickly.”
Wirth will be one of several CEOs gathering with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on June 23 in an attempt to develop policies that would help ease consumer pain at the pump. Hovering near $5 a gallon, the average price of gasoline has risen to the highest level on record and is a leading driver of inflation, posing a political problem for the administration with midterm elections just months away.
Biden has sought to blame oil and gas companies for making excessive profits at a time of war in Europe and at consumers’ expense. He called out Exxon Mobil Corp. earlier this month for making “more money than God” and asked energy companies to reinvest more of their profits in short-term production. Last week, Biden allies pressed the case that refiners were taking advantage of high profit margins.
Oil executives have rejected accusations of price gouging, instead blaming the administration for pursuing aggressive anti-oil and gas policies that have contributed to the current supply shortages.
“Your Administration has largely sought to criticize, and at times vilify, our industry,” Wirth wrote in the letter. “These actions are not beneficial to meeting the challenges we face and are not what the American people deserve.”
The president repeated prior calls for more refining capacity and higher oil production. “This idea that they don’t have oil to drill and to bring up, is simply not true,” he said. “We ought to be able to work something out whereby they’re able to increase refining capacity and still not give up on transitioning to renewable energy.”
Many in the industry are frustrated with Biden’s call for more oil production when earlier in his presidency he signaled he wanted them to do the opposite. Soon after taking office Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, restricted oil leases and called for a long-term phase out of fossil fuels.
“You have called on our industry to increase energy production. We agree. Let’s work together,” Wirth said in the letter. He said Chevron needs clarity and consistency on a range of policies, including leasing and permitting on federal land, the ability to build infrastructure such as pipelines, and consideration of costs and benefits when developing regulations.