Mar 9, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden's move against Russian energy heavy on symbolism

Illustration of a lock in the colors of the Russian flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

HOUSTON — President Biden's ban on Russian oil imports has rather limited commercial effects, but carries symbolic weight and quickly entered domestic energy policy battles.

The big picture: The U.S. and EU commercial positions are very different. Russia provides significant amounts of oil to the U.S., but nowhere near the huge volumes it provides Europe.

  • The numbers bounce around, but as of last November, Russia provided 7% of U.S. combined crude and petroleum product imports. But recent volumes were falling even before the ban.
  • "Most of my member companies had already self-imposed a boycott of Russian crude," American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers told Axios at the CERAWeek conference in Houston.
  • Preliminary federal data shows U.S. imports of Russian crude dropped to nothing in late February.

Between the lines: The ban comes amid record-high U.S. gasoline prices that are still rising amid the tight market.

  • Axios' Margaret Talev reports on how Biden's announcement came loaded with phrases like "Putin's price hike" and "Putin's war."
  • Biden, amid wider inflation, hopes to redirect Americans' anger toward Putin and politically insulate himself and Democrats, she notes.

Where it stands: European countries have not followed suit, though the U.K. is phasing out Russian imports this year.

  • "If more Western countries join the US and impose oil embargoes on Russia, it would create a 4.3 million barrels per day (bpd) hole in the market that simply cannot be quickly replaced by other sources of supply," Rystad Energy analyst Bjørnar Tonhaugen said in a note that says oil prices would soar much further still.

What they're saying: The ban has bipartisan support. But Republicans also called for Biden to ease what they call restrictive domestic development policies.

  • "We should not replace Russian oil with oil from dictators in Iran and Venezuela," said Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking Republican on the Senate's energy committee.
  • But the White House pointed to rising U.S. output and the amount of undeveloped federal leases. "It’s simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production," Biden said.
  • The White House and environmental groups reiterated calls for faster clean energy and electric vehicles deployment via Biden's stalled domestic investment legislation.
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