A group of House Republicans has begun a probe into a potential U.S. ban on fuel exports and what they called the “potential misuse” of the national strategic oil reserve by the Biden administration.
In an Oct. 26 letter to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Republican lawmakers on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked to examine all documents relating to deliberations on a potential oil and gas export ban they said would send fuel prices up even higher amid a global energy shortage.
“The Biden Administration continues to pursue policies that suppress domestic energy production and drive fuel prices higher for consumers,” they wrote in the letter.
A potential oil and gas export ban—something the White House has not ruled out as a measure to lower retail prices—would “result in even higher gas prices, supply chain issues, global market upheaval, and reduced energy security for the U.S. and our allies,” they said.
Led by Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and James Comer (Ky.), the committee Republicans also sought information about the Biden administration’s historic drawdown of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
The effort signals tougher Republican scrutiny ahead if the GOP can flip red the House in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, which would grant the committee subpoena power to compel evidence from senior Biden administration officials.
Republicans have sparred with the administration over President Joe Biden’s decision to release 180 million barrels of crude oil from the SPR to stabilize energy prices. The drawdown began not long after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and was completed last week when the White House announced the sale of 15 million barrels forming the final tranche. The administration also indicated that it’s open to “additional significant” sales in the winter if needed.
Earlier this month, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced a production cut by 2 million barrels per day, adding further pressures on the Biden administration as it attempts to secure the country’s fuel supplies and tame high energy prices.
SPR levels have fallen to about 402 million as of Oct. 21, the lowest since 1984. This represents about 20 days of supply for the United States.
Biden said the government will restock the oil reserve when prices are at or below $67 to $72 per barrel.
“[T]he Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created as an emergency buffer to mitigate domestic fallout from global market shocks,” but Biden has “emptied more of our vital stockpiles than all previous presidents combined,” the committee Republicans wrote.
“Dipping further into the SPR to cover additional foreign fuel bans or price fluctuations is a short-sighted fix that would inadvertently exacerbate U.S. vulnerability,” they added.
In the letter, the lawmakers asked for materials and communications between the Energy Department and third-party groups or with the White House regarding the SPR release or the export ban.
Both the potential export ban and oil reserve sales have faced opposition from those in the industry.
“People are depleting their emergency stocks, had depleted it, used it as a mechanism to manipulate markets while its profound purpose was to mitigate shortage of supply,” Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told an investor conference in the country’s capital.
“However, it is my profound duty to make clear to the world that losing emergency stocks may be painful in the months to come,” Salman said, in an apparent criticism of the Biden administration.
U.S. refiners warned that limiting exports of refined gasoline could decrease inventory levels and reduce domestic refining capacity, further driving up costs for consumers.
“An export ban could result in higher product prices for U.S. fuel consumers, with more than two-thirds likely to experience price increases of more than 15 cents per gallon for gasoline and 45 cents per gallon for distillates,” American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers said in a joint letter to Granholm earlier this month.
The Republican lawmakers on the committee earlier decried Biden officials’ move to transfer oil from the reserve to Unipec, the U.S. subsidiary of a state-owned Chinese oil giant Sinopec. The sales to Unipec amounted to nearly 6 million barrels over the nine months from September 2021 to July. A Chinese investment firm tied to the president’s son, Hunter Biden, had previously invested in Sinopec.
“Biden is draining our strategic reserves at an unprecedented rate. This is an abuse of the SPR, far beyond its intended purpose. Sending U.S. petroleum reserves to foreign adversaries is wrong, and it undermines our national security,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) told The Epoch Times in July.
The Department of Energy did not return an inquiry from The Epoch Times by press time.