Speed Reads

Invisible Hands

White House says Russian oil ban is still 'on the table,' but nobody's buying Russian oil already, traders say

The Biden administration reiterated Wednesday that the U.S. has no plans to add Russian oil and gas exports to the growing list of punitive sanctions enacted after Russia invaded Ukraine. At least not yet.

"We don't have a strategic interest in reducing global supply of energy," which "would raise prices at the gas pump for Americans," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. If Russia heightens aggressions against Ukraine, "it's very much on the table," Press Secretary Jen Psaki told MSNBC, but "we're not trying to hurt ourselves, we're trying to hurt President Putin and the Russian economy." When asked about banning Russian oil Wednesday, President Biden said, "Nothing is off the table."

But oil and gas futures still hit multi-year highs on Wednesday and early Thursday. With or without a formal blockade, "traders are struggling to sell Russian oil, even at a discount, because of the new difficulties in shipping and payments amid its invasion of Ukraine," BBC News reports. Nearly 70 percent of Russian crude oil exports don't have a buyer, British consultancy Energy Aspects said, and oil trader Trafigura could not seem to sell Russian crude at an $18.60-per-barrel discount. Trafigura isn't alone. 

The U.S. may say they aren't blocking Russian oil, "but global financial institutions are doing the heavy lifting and blanket banning anything with Russia written on the documentation," OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley told Reuters. "I think as long as the West holds its nerve, oil will still go higher."

OPEC decided Wednesday not to raise oil production quotas higher than planned due to the Ukraine invasion, so oil and gas prices will likely rise higher in the U.S. But the U.S. imports no Russian gas and little Russian oil, while Europe is much more dependent on Russian fuel and faces much higher price hikes. 

Russia's government really depends on oil and gas revenue, though. Republicans, who have been hammering Biden on inflation and high gas prices, have been the most vocal in calling for Biden to shut off the Russian spigot and ramp up U.S. production.

The White House is focused on lowering America's total oil and gas dependence, but the U.S. actually increased drilling since Biden took office, and gas production and liquefied natural gas exports grew over the past year, The Associated Press reports. "Our ability to export liquefied natural gas to Europe is limited, because our export facilities are already operating at capacity."