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Washington Watch: Republicans urge U.S. oil and gas ‘stability’ from new drilling as answer to Russia, other security threats

The Biden administration is treading carefully around oil and gas issues as fuel prices — particularly at the gasoline pump — shoot higher and inflation hits several pockets of the economy simultaneously.

U.S. benchmark oilCL00 soared above $100 a barrel this week, closing at its highest since 2014. Natural gasNG00 is trading up some 30% so far this year. Prices have been jolted higher in part as the Russian invasion of Ukraine raised supply uncertainty on top of a surge in demand after the worst of COVID-19 passed.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union address included a gentle push for renewable energy, but framed it around cost savings for U.S. households.

Republicans have been emboldened this week to suggest that drilling more traditional energy sources, such as oil and natural gas, on U.S. land and water is the key to energy independence and geopolitical security, especially while the Russian crisis drags on. Republicans and resource-state Democrats may also push for wind and solar
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but they’ve been insistent it should come within a diverse energy portfolio.

Russia is a chief global provider of natural gas in particular, including supplying some 40% of the European Union’s gas. But its military action prompted Germany to make a big move for its own liquefied natural gas. Department of Energy data shows that in 2021, the U.S. imported 245 million barrels of crude oil and related petroleum products from Russia. This equates to nearly 672,000 barrels per day — an all-time record and a 79% increase from just four years ago.

In a letter to President Biden sent Wednesday, every Republican member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, led by ranking member Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, urged the administration to rehink U.S. energy.

“It is no secret that we have been opposed to the approach you have taken towards American energy production. Your administration’s focus on ending the production and use of traditional sources of American energy has contributed to soaring inflation,” the letter reads. “It also has left the U.S. and our allies vulnerable to the malicious maneuverings of Vladimir Putin. It is astonishing that while Putin’s Russia was poised to gobble up Ukraine, your climate envoy, John Kerry, was saying, “I hope President Putin will help us to stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate.”

And on Tuesday, nine Republicans put forward legislation seeking to ban imports of Russian energy, in response to the invastion of Ukraine. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, who co-signed a renewables-favoring Green New Deal that stalled in the last Congress, advanced his own version of cutting off Russian energy imports.

The Republicans want to answer with more U.S. drilling, while Markey says the cutoff favors a faster switch to U.S. clean energy, such as wind, solar and other means.

Read: Biden to extend Trump’s solar tariffs, but with a key change

“In a time of tight markets for oil and natural gas and geopolitical unrest, American energy serves as a strategic asset and stabilizing force for global energy security,” American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers said in a letter Monday to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Sommers warned against “unwarranted delays in federal permitting and leasing of American energy,” although the Biden administration told Bloomberg TV this week that the industry should take advantage of some 9,000 unused drilling permits it already has.

The oil and gas lobby has long built up its Beltway might, spending some $115 million on lobbying in 2021 and ranking sixth highest overall, according to financial watchdog OpenSecrets. 

Read: More and more right-leaning Americans worry about climate change, but aren’t ready to give up gas stoves

Beyond just the energy industry itself, the Chamber of Commerce has posted its requests for additional fossil-fuel energy access. And it added: “While shoring up energy security for the U.S. and our allies today, we must remain committed to the global energy transition. That means a continued focus on accelerating development and deployment of technologies to decarbonize our economy. Those include renewables, battery technology, advanced nuclear technologies, electric vehicles, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks—all of which reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels.

“We need a more balanced conversation about how to have smart policies on climate while promoting energy resilience and national security. We must be able to do both,” the Chamber said.

Industry reaction moves ahead as well. U.S.-based integrated oil giant Exxon Mobil
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on Tuesday cut ties with a major oil and gas project in Russia. Exxon had been under renewed pressure from shareholders and the public at large to make the move after, BP PLC and Shell PLC announced the end of their participation in projects with Russian state-owned oil and gas companies following the invasion of Ukraine.

These fossil-fuel powehouses have also been in the deal space, expanding their own share of the renewables market.

See also: Chevron to take a lead in biofuels with deal to buy Renewable Energy Group

Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who is House minority whip, said at a press conference earlier Tuesday that “Biden, by shutting American energy down, has made our country more dependent on Russia. He was actually begging Russia to produce more oil. The sad thing is, Putin did. And today the United States, European Union and the U.K. combined are sending $700 million a day to Russia to buy their oil. Every day. That’s funding the war against Ukraine.”

Biden has pushed for cutting subisidies for oil and gas and says he wants the U.S. on a path to halve its emissions by the end of the decade, a move in step with most of the globe’s largest nations. He has also expressed interest in Republican-favored approaches to cutting emissions, including carbon capture and storage, nuclear and still-nascent green hydrogen technologies.

Related: ‘Want to stop making Putin rich… renewables is the answer’: Does the Russia-Ukraine crisis speed up or slow Europe’s green energy push?

“If we opened up American energy, we could supply that need that President Biden shut down. But you just think about it, when people are paying at the pump too much right now in America, but all across Europe,” Scalise said.

Read: Emergency plan to ease global oil-shortage fears amid the Ukraine-Russia crisis has seemingly backfired—here’s why

Democrat Joe Manchin, who often sides with Republicans on energy issues because his home state of West Virginia is a top natural gas producer, has also said the U.S. needs to step up production to replace Russia’s energy, for both the U.S. and its NATO allies. 

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday issued the second of three multiyear reports, this one focused not on how countries and cities can cut emissions in the future, but on short-term crises around the world. And it called out the oil and gas industries in particular.

The report said even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a widely accepted target, people across the U.S., Mexico and Canada will be at increasing risk of catastrophic weather events. In the West, the report forecasts intensifying drought, extreme heat and wildfires. The Gulf Coast is expected to get more destructive hurricanes and rising sea levels. In the Midwest and Northeast, heavier rains are expected to cause more flooding and damage to crops.

Fossil-fuel combustion for energy accounts for about 74% of total Earth-warming U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, the Energy Information Agency says.

Focus lately has stepped up on more potent, but shorter-lived, methane emissions, leaked when natural gas is captured and when it is burned. Late last year, as part of a major U.N.-led climate change conference, at least 110 countries made a pledge to cut methane emissions from human activities — including agriculture, the energy sector and other sources — 30% by 2030.

Read: Climate change happening faster than globe can adapt, latest U.N. report warns

Yet, of the five countries with the largest methane emissions from their energy sectors — China, Russia, the U.S., Iran and India — only the U.S. signed on. Republicans have said that the U.S. shouldn’t bear extra responsibility without agreement from major polluters. The oil and gas industry says updates to their technology has improved emissions.

Read: Supreme Court considers federal reach in curbing power emissions in case with major implications for Biden’s climate agenda

At least one representative of the “clean” energy space says it’s technology that will keep U.S. energy and U.S. borders secure.

“What advanced energy does is replace commodities with technologies, which get cheaper and better over time, just like computers and televisions,” said Nat Kreamer, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, and a military veteran.

“We have seen it in the falling prices of wind and solar power, and we are seeing it happen in the batteries that power electric cars
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trucks, and buses,” Kreamer said. “Domestically manufacturing components for clean energy and transportation, and shoring up technology supply chains, will further insulate the U.S. economy from dangerous geopolitics.”

Ariel Gans of Medill News Service contributed.

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