Biden mocks ‘sensitive’ Chevron CEO Michael Wirth in spat over gas price claims

President Biden escalated a war of words with Chevron CEO Michael Wirth Tuesday after the country’s second-largest oil company rejected the president’s “political rhetoric” about high gas prices.

“He’s mildly sensitive. I didn’t know they’d get their feelings hurt that quickly,” Biden said at the White House when a reporter asked about Wirth’s rebuttal.

“We need more refining capacity. This idea that they don’t have oil to drill and to bring up is simply not true,” Biden said. “We ought to be able to work something out whereby they’re able to increase refining capacity and still not give up on transitioning to renewable energy.”

Wirth wrote to Biden that addressing high gas prices “requires thoughtful action and a willingness to work together, not political rhetoric.”

Biden last week blamed oil companies for contributing to high prices — arguing they aren’t refining enough oil after previously claiming they aren’t drilling enough on existing federal leases and slamming companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron for reaping massive profits as global prices rise.

Wirth pushed back on Biden’s portrayal of the companies as responsible for soaring gas prices, which last week hit an all-time average of more than $5 per gallon.

President Biden escalated tensions with Chevron CEO Michael Wirth after the oil company rejected the president’s “political rhetoric.”
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

“In 2021, Chevron produced the highest volume of oil and gas in our 143-year history. In the first quarter of 2022, our U.S. production was 1.2 million barrels per day, up 109,000 barrels per day from the same quarter a year earlier,” Wirth wrote.

“In the Permian Basin [centered in West Texas] alone, we expect production to approach 750,000 barrels per day by the end of the year, an increase of more than 15[%] from 2021,” Wirth added.

“And Chevron’s U.S. refinery input grew to 915,000 barrels per day on average in the first quarter of this year from 881,000 in the same quarter last year.”

Gas prices increased gradually during 2021 — from about $2.30 to $3.27 per gallon —before surging when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

President Biden argues that gas companies aren’t refining enough oil.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Republicans say Biden contributed to the crisis by seeking to impose a moratorium last year on new oil drilling on public lands and by spiking new oil pipeline projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada.

High gas prices are contributing to the worst inflation since 1981.

Chevron reported a profit of $6.5 billion in the first quarter of 2022 — quadruple its profits of $1.7 billion from the first quarter of 2021.

But Wirth wrote to Biden that “Chevron shares your concerns over the higher prices that Americans are experiencing.”

“I assure you that Chevron is doing its part to help address these challenges by increasing capital expenditures to $18 billion in 2022, more than 50% higher than last year,” he added.

“While today’s geopolitical situation is contributing to this energy crisis, bringing prices down and increasing supply will require a change in approach. You have called on our industry to increase energy production. We agree. Let’s work together,” Wirth added.

“The US energy sector needs cooperation and support from your Administration for our country to return to a path toward greater energy security, economic prosperity, and environmental protection.”

Michael Wirth pushed back on Biden’s portrayal of the companies as responsible for soaring gas prices, which last week hit an all-time average of more than $5 per gallon.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Biden administration officials will meet this week with oil company CEOs but Biden on Monday told reporters that he would not participate.

The president also said Monday that he plans to decide this week whether to ask Congress to temporarily waive the federal gas tax of 18.3 cents per gallon. He previously ordered the release of a million barrels per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and allowed a higher proportion of ethanol in gas over the summer, but neither step lowered prices.

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