The top reason domestic energy production hasn’t ramped up isn’t Joe Biden’s green energy agenda, according to oil company executives. Instead, it’s a lack of enthusiasm from investors.
A majority of oil and gas executives surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas this month pointed to pressure from investors as the top obstacle to growth. Less than 10% blamed government regulation.
“We are maintaining discipline in capital spending to maintain great internal rates of return,” said one executive at an unnamed exploration and production firm, referring to profits from earlier investments.
The Dallas Fed survey comes at a moment of fierce political debate over rising gas prices and overall high inflation, with Republicans blaming higher fuel costs entirely on Biden.
“In the last 14 months, the Democrats, including the president, have been attacking the American oil and gas industry, and stopping our own production,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said Wednesday at a press conference to hammer Biden on gas prices.
Higher gas prices have been part of an overall inflation surge that started last year. The war in Ukraine and the retaliatory boycott of Russian oil, which represented a sizable minority chunk of U.S. imports, has caused gas prices to surge even faster in recent weeks, though the cost of a gallon has declined a small amount in the last few days.
Biden has called it “Putin’s price hike” and also sought to shame energy companies for pushing higher costs on consumers while reaping record profits. Democrats have said they’ll drag executives to Capitol Hill to make them answer for their profiteering.
The Biden administration has also pointed out in recent weeks that oil and gas companies are sitting on more than 9,000 approved but unused permits to drill across millions of acres of federal lands. But industry groups like the Western Energy Alliance have argued they aren’t able to simply ramp up production because the Biden administration has thrown up roadblocks preventing companies from developing those areas, including delaying pipeline approvals.
Republicans, including some of Congress’ largest recipients of oil and gas donations, have swarmed to defend the industry, falsely accusing Biden of “destroying” America’s energy industry and demanding the president “unleash” domestic oil and gas. On Wednesday, they once again condemned the administration’s pause on new federal leasing and permitting and Biden’s early decision to rescind a key permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
But when asked at a congressional hearing this month about the impact of Biden’s leasing pause, Colette Hirstius, senior vice president of oil giant Shell, said, “I do not think that not having lease sales has raised the costs to consumers.”
Biden’s critics have ignored the fact that Wall Street investors are pressuring U.S. drillers to limit production amid record prices.
More than half — 59% — of the 139 executives surveyed by the Dallas Fed listed investor pressure as the primary reason producers are keeping production down.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, noted that the Fed’s metrics showed the industry ramping up production. “At the same time, many factors continue to have a chilling effect on investment,” API’s Frank Macchiarola said, “including the industry’s recovery from the pandemic, workforce and supply chain constraints, and mixed signals and misguided policies that are limiting domestic production and discouraging financing for natural gas and oil projects.”
In anonymous comments collected by the Fed, several executives did blame their woes on the Biden administration’s green agenda.
“I feel that the primary reason that publicly traded oil producers are restraining growth despite high oil prices is a two-headed monster, with capital discipline and governmental regulations due to the green progressives in the administration’s ear,” one executive from an oil and gas support service firm wrote.
“The talk about price gouging is tiresome,” complained another. “Discussion of federal leases and those leases being unused without an honest discussion about all the constraints and regulatory issues to drill is also unhelpful.”
But other comments reflected the pressure from investors to avoid plowing capital into new exploration and drilling projects.
“Investors dumped huge funds into shale drilling only to discover that when oil prices dropped, very little value existed at the end of the day,” one executive said. “Investors have demanded restraint and capital discipline of their client companies.”