(Bloomberg) – House Republicans are launching an investigation into what they say may be the Biden administration’s “potential misuse” of the country’s emergency oil reserves to drive down gas prices , as well as White House deliberations on a fuel export ban.
Republicans’ decision on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform provides for a stronger investigation if the GOP gains control of the chamber after November’s midterm elections, a move that would give them the power to subpoena key officials in President Joe Biden’s administration.
Republicans on the committee, in a letter Wednesday, said they were reviewing the administration’s use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve amid a historic release of 180 million barrels that began in the spring on the heels of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and culminated last week when the White House announced it was unloading the final 15 million barrels. Republicans also said in the letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm that they were seeking information on a possible export ban on refined petroleum products.
“We fear the President will soon impose an oil and gas export ban that will lead to even higher gas prices, supply chain issues, global market disruptions and reduced energy security. for the United States and our allies,” the letter said. led by Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the committee, and South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace.
The Department of Energy said it received the letter. “The SPR is a critical tool designed to deal with global supply disruptions, and as Putin’s war continues to upend energy markets, the Biden administration, like administrations on both sides have done in the past, uses the SPR as intended – to address supply disruptions and provide assistance to American families when they need it most,” the agency said.
The letter comes amid Republican anger over the administration’s use of the SPR to rein in high gas prices ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections that will decide control of Congress. The latest release follows OPEC+’s decision earlier this month to cut production, which drew criticism from the White House and further soured US-Saudi relations. President Biden has said further releases from the oil reserve are possible in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the Saudi oil minister has warned major importers for trying to rein in prices by selling their stocks. “People are depleting their emergency stocks” and using them “as a mechanism to manipulate the markets,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh earlier this week. “The loss of emergency stocks can become painful in the months to come.”
Read more: Saudi energy minister warns of running out of crude reserves
At the same time, the administration has considered an export ban on petroleum products like gasoline and diesel, a move that would mark the most sweeping step the White House has ever taken to tackle gasoline prices. . While no deadline has been set for a decision, which has sparked division within Biden’s team, it isn’t expected to happen until next month’s election, according to a person familiar with the matter.
House Republicans, in their letter, requested documents and communications related to internal communications by Energy Department officials, as well as between agency officials and staff at the White House and third-party groups on SPR releases to drive down prices as well as in conjunction with export bans, among other documents.
Like U.S. oil producers and analysts, committee members argue that suspending petroleum product exports will drive up global fuel prices and ultimately make them more expensive for the northeast and west coast states. United States, both of which are heavily dependent on imports. The timing would not be ideal, as the East Coast is struggling with diesel and gasoline shortages.
Read more: Biden’s gasoline export ban could backfire on higher pump prices
Republicans on the committee have previously raised flags over the administration’s use of SPR, alleging that the Energy Department transferred 900,000 barrels of oil to Unipec America Inc., a subsidiary of Sinopec Corp., owned by the Communist Party, and recipient of billions of dollars of investment by BHR Partners. , a private equity firm of which Hunter Biden, the president’s son, was a founding board member. Republicans also previously asked the Department of Energy for a briefing on the agency’s plans to fill the reserves.
The White House said the Department of Energy is required by law to sell SPR oil in a competitive auction to the highest bidder, whether or not the bidder is a foreign company. “This independent process has been consistent across jurisdictions,” said Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House Legal Counsel’s Office.
(Updates with Department of Energy’s response to fifth paragraph.)
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