ICYMI: America is the World's Energy Superpower. Why Aren't We Acting Like It?

March 28, 2022

By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso

March 28, 2022


We've had a choice on American energy for decades. That choice is between encouraging energy production and infrastructure, or throwing up roadblocks. At every turn, Democrats chose to throw up roadblocks. Today, we are living with the consequences. 

If Democrats did not appreciate the geopolitical importance of U.S. energy pre-eminence a year ago, they ought to now. President Biden inherited an energy economy that was the envy of the world. He has spent the last 14 months dismantling that legacy. Pleading with Russia to bump up its oil output while Vladimir Putin was preparing to assault Ukraine sent an unmistakable signal of weakness. 

It was not always this way. The shale revolution propelled the United States from energy also-ran to energy powerhouse. That gave us the geopolitical freedom to further our national interests without having to worry about energy. 

President Trump recognized this advantage. In May 2018, he sanctioned Iranian crude oil exports over the Ayatollah's support for terrorism. By May 2020, those sanctions had taken about 2 million barrels per day off the world oil market. 

And soaring U.S. production was more than enough to make up the difference. Oil prices barely budged, and Iran was denied funding for its terror network and nuclear ambitions. 

In January 2019, the Trump Administration also sanctioned U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil to pressure the corrupt socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelan imports dried up later that year. 

America's emergence as the pre-eminent energy power made both decisions less risky. But we do not have the energy muscle to do anything close to that today. 

When oil prices spiked last year, the White House begged OPEC and Russia to raise output. Now, with Russia savagely attacking Ukraine, we have the spectacle of the Biden Administration turning to Iran and Venezuela for more oil. 

The President thinks agreements with thugs will help solve an immediate political problem for him and his party. It won't; it will just reward and embolden America's adversaries, leaving us and our allies less secure. 

Just as we should not be further bankrolling Iran and Venezuela by buying their oil, we should not have bankrolled Vladimir Putin's war machine. 

In 2021, Russia was, at 670,000 barrels per day, the third largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States after Canada and Mexico. U.S. oil could have replaced almost all of that Russian oil if not for the Democrats' longstanding hostility to America's oil and gas industry. 

Their shortsightedness helped underwrite Russian aggression. 

The West Coast is the natural market for Alaskan North Slope production, which has been falling for many years. That has forced West Coast refiners to look elsewhere, including to Russia, for supplies. 

Russian oil would not have been needed had Democrats allowed access to the small sliver of coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production—something Republicans have long supported. If President Clinton did not veto a 1995 budget bill that opened up ANWR, Alaskan production would have been hundreds of thousands of barrels a day higher, avoiding the need for Russian oil. 

It's a similar story with the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama famously claimed, "We can't drill our way to lower gas prices"—though that's precisely what we did. On that false claim, President Obama rejected the Keystone pipeline, in part because it "would not lower gas prices for American consumers." Try telling that to Americans who just paid record gasoline prices. 

That decision also created the conditions for more Russian imports. Gulf Coast refineries are designed to process heavy crude oils, like those from Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada. With Mexican output declining, Venezuelan output off limits, and Keystone dead, some Gulf refiners turned to what was available—Russian heavy oil. Meanwhile, forecasts at the time suggested that if President Obama approved Keystone, Canadian production could be 400,000 barrels per day higher. 

It should come as no surprise that Joe Biden supported both of these decisions and learned nothing from them. He killed Keystone on his first day in office. He then blocked ANWR development shortly thereafter. 

Even with Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the president shows no sign of correcting these unforced errors. He would rather go hat in hand to Iran and Venezuela than boost production here at home. 

The White House is fond of saying oil production in the first year of the Biden Administration was higher than during the first year of the Trump Administration. The better measure is whether production reaches its pre-pandemic output and growth trend. That's not likely under Biden's policies, though it is certainly within reach. 

At about 11.7 million barrels per day, U.S. crude oil output is running well below the pre-pandemic peak. In 2020, the Energy Information Administration forecast that producers were on course to hit 14 million barrels a day by 2022. We can realize that with the right policies. 

American energy pre-eminence is central to realizing our economic and geopolitical interests. 

We are the world's energy superpower. It is time we started acting like it again. 

Mr. Barrasso of Wyoming is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.