White House Signals Caution Against Russian Oil Ban

White House Signals Caution Against Russian Oil Ban
White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, on Feb. 25, 2022. (Paul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Nick Ciolino

The White House is signaling restraint in imposing a ban on Russian oil as an addition to the list of sanctions meant to punish President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.

Several members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have criticized a carve-out in U.S. sanctions exempting gas and oil, saying that it is helping fund Russia’s war in Ukraine with billions of dollars from Europe, the UK, and the United States.

But on March 3, White House press secretary Jen Psaki cautioned against the impact that a ban on Russian gas would have on the already heightened prices Americans are paying at the pump.

“Our objective and our focus is making sure that any step we take maximizes the impact on President Putin and minimizes it on the American people. And, anyone who is calling for an end to the carve-out should be clear that that would raise prices,” said Psaki.

Russia provides 10 percent of the U.S. supply of natural gas and oil, and roughly 40 percent of the European Union’s.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on March 3 introduced a bill that would ban the import of Russian crude oil and petroleum products into the United States.

On the same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined the list of congressional members voicing support for a ban on Russian oil. After telling reporters that she doesn't want gas prices to rise any higher, Pelosi went on to endorse the ban saying: "I'm all for that—ban it. Ban the oil coming from Russia."

“President Biden must stop American dollars from funding Putin’s war machine by cutting off U.S. imports of Russian oil,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) at a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 2. “Energy exports are the lifeblood of the Russian economy. And we should not be allowing Putin to use that lifeblood to spill blood in Ukraine.”

The price of crude oil has spiked in recent days, settling at more than $110 per barrel on March 2—the highest it’s been since at least 2014. And gas prices continue to rise in the United States with the national average sitting at more than $3.72 a gallon Thursday.

Manchin, along with several Republicans, has called for the United States to increase its domestic oil production as a means of stabilizing gas prices, though this would run contrary to the Biden administration’s effort to move the United States away from natural gas consumption.

“What this is all a reminder of, in [President Joe Biden’s] view, is our need to reduce reliance on oil,” said Psaki on March 3. “The Europeans need to do that. We need to do that. If we do more to invest in clean energy, more to invest in other sources of energy, that’s exactly what we need to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Biden on March 1 authorized the Department of Energy (DOE) to release 30 million barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic petroleum reserves, representing half of a coordinated 60-million-barrel release from International Energy Agency (IEA) member states.

The 60 million barrels represent 4 percent of the 1.5 billion barrels of emergency stockpiles held by IEA members, according to an IEA press release, and is equivalent to 2 million barrels a day for 30 days. The United States consumes an average of about 20 million barrels per day.