Mar 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Trump eyes intervention in Saudi-Russia oil dispute

President Trump

Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Trump said Thursday he's eyeing intervention in the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, a dispute that combined with COVID-19's economic toll is pushing prices sharply downward and creating financial jeopardy for U.S. producers.

At the appropriate time, I will get involved, yes.
— President Trump

Why it matters: The pledge came in Trump's first extensive comments on the upended oil market, but he also suggested that he has mixed feelings about the price collapse.

  • Trump, at a White House briefing on the COVID-19 response, said low gas prices were helpful to consumers. But he also said the decline "hurts a great industry and very powerful industry."
  • "We're trying to find some kind of medium ground," the president said.

Where it stands: Prices for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose into the $25-per-barrel range Thursday, since dropping Wednesday to about $20, an 18-year low. However, it's still far below the roughly $63 range where prices were at the beginning of the year.

Catch up fast: Early this month, the production-limiting agreement between OPEC and Russia collapsed, prompting Saudi Arabia to announce lower prices and plans to increase supplies.

  • It comes as drastically curtailed travel and economic activity due to COVID-19 are sharply cutting global demand for oil.

What we don't know: Trump did not say what form the U.S. involvement could take.

But the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the U.S. could ask Saudi Arabia to revisit plans to hike output via communications through the State Department and National Security Council.

The story, citing an unnamed administration official, said the U.S. is weighing potential sanctions against Russia.

  • Separately, the Energy Department on Thursday announced a solicitation to buy an initial 30 million barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, part of a wider plan to fill the stockpile. However, the plan requires congressional approval.
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