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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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Will Biden Be As Bad For Oil As Critics Suggest?

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the oil industry about the consequences of a Joe Biden win, so let’s discuss those today. Here is some context I like to use to frame the discussion. President George W. Bush was formerly a Texas oilman. His Vice President, Dick Cheney, was the former Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the oilfield services company Halliburton.

You couldn’t ask for a more oil-friendly administration. Yet U.S. oil production declined all eight years they were in office. The year before Bush was inaugurated U.S. oil production averaged 5.8 million barrels per day (BPD). In 2008 — his last full year in office — production averaged 5.0 million BPD.

Barack Obama took office in January 2009. He had campaigned on combating climate change. He implemented lots of policies designed to encourage the use of renewable energy. He was often openly hostile to the oil industry, slowing down pipeline permits and placing more federal lands off-limits to drilling.

What happened? U.S. oil production increased each year during the first seven years Obama was in office. The U.S. saw the fastest growth of oil production in history, as well as the largest expansion under any President.

From Obama’s first year in office through his seventh, U.S. oil production rose by nearly 90%. U.S. natural gas production also skyrocketed. The price of natural gas, oil, and in turn gasoline, all plunged as production surged. In 2008 gasoline futures averaged $2.45 a gallon. By 2016, that had fallen to $1.40 a gallon.

What can we conclude? I believe the logical conclusion is that a president just doesn’t have a lot of impact on the oil markets. Or, if there is an impact, it takes years to materialize.

Related: This Just Became The World's Largest Gas Hub

Why did President Obama’s tenure see such an explosion in fossil fuel production? Because hydraulic fracturing — which saw significant development under George W. Bush — matured under President Obama. Production increased despite President Obama’s policies, and not because of them.

That brings us back to Joe Biden. He campaigned on similar themes as Barack Obama. He will likely implement similar policies. We will probably see slower approval of pipelines, and less drilling on public lands. Despite his flip-flops on the issue, we will not see a ban on fracking. That was never a realistic option.

But Biden’s impact on the overall oil industry is going to pale in comparison to the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on the industry. The biggest impact Joe Biden could make on the oil industry would be to get the pandemic under control as quickly as possible, which would allow demand for oil to rebound somewhat. No other policy he may pass will have a greater effect.

I think Joe Biden’s impact on the oil industry will be like that of his predecessors. He will pass some policies that might have a small, incremental impact one way or the other, but those things are just noise against macro factors like new technology (whether it’s fracking or more electric vehicles) and a raging pandemic.

By Robert Rapier

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on November 11 2020 said:
    President Trump has championed the US shale oil industry claiming credit for the steep rise in US oil production during his years in the White House when in fact that rise started under former President Obama and former Vice President Biden and accelerated under Trump.

    And while President-elect Biden has greener goals for US energy, he will ensure that no one will undermine the US shale oil industry on his watch. Biden is fully aware of the importance of an industry valued at $8 tn and employing 2% of the US work force to the economy and the geopolitics of the United States. However, he may increase regulation of the sector by limiting methane emissions and fracking on federal land.

    Biden will look at oil prices and oil diplomacy through the lens of the broader global economy, the US economy and US jobs. Whereas, President Trump really thought of the industry as something of a strategic importance and it needed to be protected, for President-elect Biden oil policy will remain important but it will be part of a broader economic input.

    Moreover, a Biden administration would likely see natural gas as an important bridge to cleaner fuels and a reduction in coal usage. It may also see natural gas as an important export, giving the European Union (EU) the option of buying US LNG in addition to Russian natural gas.

    And while Trump saw tackling global warming as a threat to the economy, Biden says he will make fighting climate change a priority and will re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, which is one of the international accords that Trump dumped.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Arch Region on November 17 2020 said:
    In my view, President Biden despite his flip-flops on the issue, we will not see a ban on fracking because fracking is already banned by market forces.

    The realistic option for President Biden and Vice President Harris is to undermine fracking by facilitating the creation of alternative employment in the emerging clean renewable industry. The fossil fuel labor refugees will require retraining. It should not be allowed to let them perish and their towns to become drug infested and crime ridden. This happened in the past when industry left town unannounced creating economic vacuums.

    Loss of market share is a bigger threat to fracking and fossil fuels in general, than any direct government action. As loss of the scale of operation shrinks cost per unit BTU will explode making it easier to replace it with KWh.

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