Jul 29, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Trump heads to Texas oil patch as “dominance” agenda teeters

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Trump will tout his policy of "restoring energy dominance" in Texas oil country Wednesday, but market forces, OPEC and a raging pandemic are complicating his plans.

Driving the news: Trump's swing through the state today includes a visit in Midland to a Double Eagle Energy oil rig and speech on energy, and a fundraiser in Odessa.

Why it matters: Texas, long a red state, is looking very competitive heading into November. The oil-and-gas sector's big downturn — and accompanying layoffs accompanying — is something of a political wildcard.

The big picture: The collapse in demand has battered the oil industry, with production down sharply from record levels at the beginning of the year and bankruptcies piling up.

  • The U.S. oil price recovery from April's record depths has been stuck for nearly two months in the $40-per-barrel range, and the pandemic's persistence is limiting the pace of demand.

What they're saying: Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based GOP political strategist, tells me that the oil sector's downturn adds to Trump's problems there.

  • One reason is the financial downturn affects the total amount of political giving. "Lots of money in GOP politics comes from oil-and-gas and related industries," he said.
  • And the economic pain from the industry's woes is affecting Trump voters, including blue-collar, rural voters with a two-year degree or less, he said.
  • “They are the ones getting hit. They have lost their jobs, or they are in danger of losing their jobs.”

What we're watching: Whether Trump makes the case that White House moves, including his role in helping to broker the OPEC+ production-cutting pact in April, have helped the sector.

  • And whether he'll echo lines from his campaign operation that Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, would hurt the industry with his climate agenda.
  • But Steinhauser is skeptical about the political efficacy of targeting Biden, noting that voters understand that the downturn stems from the pandemic.
  • “Very few people are well versed in Joe Biden’s energy and environmental plans, and part of that is because he is not an incumbent, he is not the president," he says.

Yes, but: As this Bloomberg story notes, there's still a lot of oil-sector money flowing to the GOP.

The intrigue: Oil prices are up this morning, with WTI trading around $41.34. But a note from Rystad Energy this week says the market could face new headwinds as OPEC+ eases some output curbs starting next month.

  • “OPEC’s experiment to increase production from August could backfire as we are still nowhere near out of the woods yet in terms of oil demand. The overall liquids market will flip back into a mini-supply glut and a swing into deficit will not happen again until December 2020,” Rystad's Bjørnar Tonhaugen writes.
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