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Looking beyond Russian oil

As the U.S. and Europe slash Russian oil imports, political leaders look for alternative energy sources

Gas prices are displayed at a gas station in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. Associated Press/Photo by Ashley Landis

Looking beyond Russian oil

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday afternoon, lines of cars waited at a Citgo in the northeast of the nation’s capital. At $4 a gallon, the station offered the cheapest gasoline price in the neighborhood on a day when the national average jumped to a record high of $4.17.

Chris Johnson pumped gas into his car while his 1-year-old daughter snoozed in the back seat. Hours earlier, President Joe Biden had announced a ban on Russian oil imports, a move likely to raise gas prices further. “I think it’s a stupid thing,” Johnson said of Biden’s decision. “If we’ve got to buy from Russia to cheapen our prices, go ahead.”

At least for now, Johnson is in the minority among American voters. A Wall Street Journal poll this week found 79 percent of voters supported a ban on Russian oil even if it further raised energy prices, already impacted by inflation and global repercussions of the war in Ukraine. It appears that commitment will be tested: By Thursday the nationwide average price had climbed to $4.31, according to AAA. Although the United States is less dependent on Russian oil than European nations, Biden is still looking for alternative sources to make up the losses.

On Capitol Hill, there was bipartisan support for stopping Russian oil imports even before the president’s announcement. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told Politico, “It’s a smart thing for the United States not to be sending $40-50 million a day to fund the war machine in Moscow.”

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed its own Russian oil ban, backing Biden’s order and adding a requirement to review Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization and expand sanction options for human rights violations. The Senate will likely not take up the bill, as Democratic leaders there worry about limiting Biden’s ability to remove the ban.

Russia is the world’s largest oil exporter, but the United States does not rely heavily on Russian oil and gas. Last year the U.S. imported only 3 percent of its crude oil from Russia, according to American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association.

The situation is different for the European Union: Last year, Russia supplied about 27 percent of the EU’s crude oil imports and 45 percent of its natural gas. The EU has been reluctant to sanction Russian energy, but on Tuesday the bloc announced plans to cut its dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year. The announcement said the EU has enough fuel to last this winter. To make up future shortfalls, it will increase gas imports from countries such as the United States, Norway, and Qatar and will accelerate preexisting plans to boost energy efficiency and expand domestic renewable energy sources.

Even with the United States’ minimal reliance on Russian imports, cutting that stream of oil will require finding fuel elsewhere. Biden administration officials have visited Venezuela and Saudi Arabia in recent weeks and considered Iran, all potential sources of extra oil. The United States would need to lift sanctions on Venezuela and Iran to import their oil, and some lawmakers disapprove of deepening partnerships with those regimes.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement Monday, “If the reports are true that the Biden administration is brokering the purchase of Venezuelan oil, I fear that it risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis that has destabilized Latin America and the Caribbean for an entire generation.” Venezuelan oil production has fallen precipitously as a result of mismanagement and sanctions: The country’s output is roughly equal to the amount the United States imported from Russia last year.

In a shift in policy on Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates said it would urge OPEC to pump more oil, which would also help reduce prices.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested Biden focus instead on boosting domestic oil production, though that wouldn’t fix the short-term price squeeze. Goldberg emphasized that the United States shouldn’t embrace Venezuela and Iran to avoid energy price hikes.

“Lifting sanctions on Iran and Venezuela—murderous dictatorships, including one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism in the world, both allies of Russia and Vladimir Putin—is not going to help our problems,” Goldberg told reporters in a briefing. “It plays right into Putin’s hands. These are Putin’s allies.”

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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