(The Center Square) – Oil prices hit a 7-year high this week as American oil and gas companies continue to fight the Biden administration over policies restricting production.
As the economy began to reopen this year and the demand for fuel increased, President Joe Biden, through executive order, halted and restricted oil and gas leases on federal lands, stopped construction of the Keystone Pipeline, and redirected U.S. policy to import more oil from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia (OPEC+) instead of bolstering American oil and gas exploration and production.
The U.S. led the world in oil and gas production for seven consecutive years prior to this year. It produced more oil and petroleum liquids than any other country, with Texas leading the way, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.
Texas remains the top crude oil and natural gas producing state in the U.S. In 2020, Texas accounted for 43% of the nation's crude oil production and 26% of its marketed natural gas production, EIA reports.
In Texas and across the country, however, gas prices have soared. In Houston, the state’s largest city with close access to refineries, gas prices were historically low last year, hovering at $1.50 a gallon at the pump. Now gas in some areas of the state is $3 a gallon or more. In other states like California, gas prices have already surpassed $5 a gallon.
As of Oct. 6, the average national retail price was $3.22 a gallon for regular gasoline, according to AAA, roughly one dollar more than it was last year. The highest average was $4.42 in California.
On Oct. 4, OPEC+ said it planned to increase oil production by up to 400,000 barrels a day in November, causing a market reaction.
West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 2.3%, reaching a seven-year high. Its international counterpart, Brent, rose 2.5%, its highest level in three years. Oil is expected to reach over $100 a barrel by the end of the year, driving prices up even further.
In August, while the administration saw gas prices and inflation rising, and asked OPEC+ to increase oil output, it imposed harsher restrictions on American companies and failed to comply with a court order reversing an executive order.
In an Aug. 11 statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “While OPEC+ recently agreed to production increases, these increases will not fully offset previous production cuts that OPEC+ imposed during the pandemic until well into 2022. At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough.”
At the same time, the Western Energy Alliance and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming were fighting Biden’s ban on oil and natural gas leasing after the Department of the Interior failed to comply with a Louisiana court ruling overturning the ban. As gas prices were going up and many Americans in the oil and gas sector were still out of work, “the Interior Department still had not issued a plan on how it would conduct its reported comprehensive review of the federal oil and natural gas program” as directed by a January executive order, the Alliance argued.
“[F]or six months the leasing ban [was] completely futile, as no progress [was] made on the supposed reason for the ban in the first place,” the Alliance said.
On Oct. 4, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing, “We’re going to continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure we can keep gas prices down for the American public.” But those in the oil and gas sector argue the surest way to do this is to allow American companies to produce more oil and gas and for the Biden administration to follow the law.
Instead, the federal government has buckled down on not allowing onshore lease sales to be held for the entire year of 2021.
Plaintiffs in Louisiana and Wyoming have asked the judges in their respective cases to force the Department of the Interior to comply with federal law and “meet its obligations under the Mineral Leasing Act. This administration is not above the law. It must comply with laws passed by Congress and orders by the federal judiciary, whether it agrees with them or not.”
Pete Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said, “the Biden Administration must do more than say it will follow the law, it must follow the law in practice.”