WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is making his first trip to the Middle East as president. His agenda includes meeting in Saudi Arabia with the heads of several oil-producing countries
While Biden would like those countries to increase oil production, he said the sit down is about much more than oil and gas prices.
“The reason I'm going to Saudi Arabia though is much broader, it’s to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from: our influence in the Middle East,” Biden said.
But back home, Americans face pressure at the pump. Prices have been easing, gas now averages nationally at $4.60 a gallon, down from $5 a month ago, according to AAA. But that's still high and it's contributing to the worst inflation in 40 years. The White House wants OPEC nations to bring prices down further by increasing production.
"We’ve already seen OPEC take a meaningful step with respect to the increase in oil production in the months of July and August. That was a positive step. We welcomed it," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this week. We do believe there is a capacity for further steps that could be taken. And we will see how that unfolds as we go."
The call for boosting production is expected to come up at Biden’s meeting, but there is skepticism among energy experts.
“Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, or Qatar these are all countries that are producing at or close to the maximum that they can produce. And so when they are producing at their maximum, any promises to make to produce more ring hollow and I think the market has already factored those in based on what we know,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, Chief Energy Officer at the University of Houston, told Spectrum News.
Still, Krishnamoorti said it is a good idea for Biden to sit down with the OPEC leaders especially from Saudi Arabia after criticizing that country’s human rights record before he became president.
“President Biden, when he was campaigning, didn’t have many good things to say about Saudi Arabia, that certainly has played a role in a cool relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States over the last couple of years, this might start to find a pathway to normalize,” he said.
Some Texas Republicans in Washington are needling Biden, saying he should be visiting oil producers here at home. Officials with the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association and Texas Oil and Gas Association signed onto a letter with several energy groups urging the president to come to American facilities.
Rep. August Pfluger, R-San Angelo, represents the Permian Basin of Texas and said while understands the importance of working with Saudi Arabia, he felt like the president’s trip is ill-timed.
“It's really poorly timed when Americans are going to the gas pump, and paying the highest average per gallon of gas when American families are having trouble putting food on the table and making it month to month. And you've got all the energy and the resources here at home, and yet he refuses to talk to people in Odessa, Texas, he refuses to talk to people in other producing regions,” Pfluger told Spectrum News.
He added that he felt like the administration also was not doing enough to incentivize longer investments into the industry.
“The rhetoric matters, words matter,” Pfluger said. "It makes it very difficult for investors to have the predictability or the certainty that their investments will be put to good use. Inexpensive, affordable, reliable energy helps those especially who are earning the least in this country."
The Biden administration has been speaking to the oil producers, but it is not a message some of them might want to hear. With the price of crude falling faster than prices at the pump. Biden has been urging oil and gas companies to pass on those lower costs to consumers.