And all that was before the Ukraine became the only news.
Now, the urgency of keeping a lid on oil prices has soared as sharply as prices themselves.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at the CERAWeek conference in Houston last week:
- We are on a war footing, the DOE and the Biden Administration is ready to work with you
- We need oil and gas production to rise
Why this could be described as a U-turn on the part of the U.S. Department of Energy, it is by far not the only one.
The president has also been making U-turns in a bid to find alternatives to Russian oil and fuels, which Biden banned last week in the latest punitive move against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
For starters, Biden sent envoys to Venezuela, a country sanctioned heavily by his predecessor, Donald Trump, with the Biden administration upholding the sanctions and tying relief to what effectively would amount to regime change.
Earlier this month, before the ban on Russian oil & fuel imports was signed, the U.S. sent a delegation to Venezuela.
The talks, according to reports, concerned conditions under which Washington would lift sanctions but pretty much everyone saw them as an attempt on the part of the U.S. to find a replacement for Russian crude.
Some reports even said the Biden administration had told the Venezuelan side sanctions would be lifted if the state oil company commits to direct supplies of crude to U.S. refiners.
Joe Biden´s administration has also faced criticism for its handling of the Iran talks.
Then there is Saudi Arabia.
Since last year, the Biden administration has several times tried to persuade Riyadh to boost oil production above its OPEC+ quota in order to arrest the inexorable rise in international prices.
Every time, Riyadh has refused to do so, although not in so many words.
This will, in all likelihood, prompt more criticism from Biden's political opponents.
There's fertile ground for such criticism.
The approach to Venezuela and attempts to mend fences with Saudi Arabia, not to mention efforts to befriend the U.S. own oil industry, go counter the administration's own agenda.
Yet there is little else the White House can do.
As RBC Capital Markets Helima Croft put it in a mixed but accurate metaphor:
- The White House has embarked on the oil equivalent of a scavenger hunt
- Given the potential magnitude of the Russian losses, the White House will need something akin to a straight flush to pull it off
The biggest among these is that the energy security of your own population will always trump things like strategic geopolitics or moral stances against perceived adversaries.
Punishing adversaries may feel good but having enough money to fill up the car and keep the lights on feels even better.
Author: Irina Slav