At the American Petroleum Institute (API)’s 2023 State of American Energy event, their CEO Mike Sommers took the stage to blame the Biden administration’s energy policies for high gas prices. 

However, behind Sommer’s rhetoric is the reality of Big Oil’s eye-popping profiteering, exploitation of our public lands, and greenwashing of the industry’s reckless and hazardous pollution.

By diving into the industry’s history of fear-mongering, we’ve debunked Sommer’s fossil fuel falsehoods: 

RHETORIC: “Under the Biden administration, our government has leased fewer federal acres for oil and natural gas production than any other president since World War II and has suggested no offshore leasing for years.” 

REALITY: While Sommers claims the Biden administration’s public land policies hurt America’s energy supply, Big Oil isn’t buying federal land when it’s up for grabs. 

After the Inflation Reduction Act revived several lease sales, Big Oil refrained from purchasing many key tracts of public land – including an offshore drilling auction off the Southern Alaska coast. Only one company bid on the chance to drill on just one tract out of 193 offered up for leasing. 

Federal lands aren’t as essential to America’s supply as the industry claims either – only 25% of total US oil production came from federal territories. Of the 25 million onshore acres leased to the oil and gas industry in 2021 alone, 49% went unused. 

RHETORIC: “Experts say demand for global oil and natural gas will increase tremendously over the next thirty years […] if America doesn’t meet that demand, then that demand will be met by other countries that may not share our values or be reliable partners.”

REALITY: America is far from dependent on foreign sources for its energy. In fact, the U.S.’s total energy exports exceeded its imports by about 3.82 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in 2021 – the most significant margin on record. The US has also been the top crude oil producer since 2018 and was the largest liquid natural gas exporter in 2022. 

Sommer’s claims about our foreign dependence aren’t facts, but fear-mongering fantasies he’s peddled throughout his time at API. He frequently uses hypothetical situations about natural security to highlight the importance of domestic drilling, framing it as a choice between using American oil and gas or that from a “hostile” regime. He’s even invoked 9/11 to imply the importance of oil and gas in protecting the nation’s infrastructure “against any future acts of terrorism.” 

RHETORIC: “We need our government to greenlight more pipelines to move our energy across the US safely and more terminals to let ships bring our energy around the world.”

REALITY: While it’s convenient for Sommers to place the blame for high energy prices on the Biden Administration’s infrastructure policies, it’s oil companies themselves that created the consumer crisis. 

Even before COVID-19 brought down fuel usage, oil and gas shippers only used 60-70 percent of the nation’s pipeline capacity. Additionally, when the opportunity arose for Big Oil to support infrastructure expansion through the Inflation Reduction Act, they encouraged their Republican allies in Congress to block the legislation. 

While those decisions may seem like Big Oil was setting itself up for a loss, they were all part of its plan to profit. Instead of increasing production using their untapped resources amid the invasion of Ukraine, they used the crisis as an excuse to pass their costs onto the consumer. That’s why major oil companies like Exxon Mobil still saw profits soar in the third quarter of 2022 as drivers struggled to fuel up. 

RHETORIC: “We’re innovating in our production processes to slash methane emissions intensity, a potent greenhouse gas, and we’re working every day to bring them down even further.”

REALITY: Despite Sommer’s public proclamations of sustainability, API has long been an opponent of policies that would speed up a transition from fossil fuels. In addition to supporting Trump’s rollback of Obama-era methane regulations, API has advocated for ending ethanol mandates and regularly promotes fossil fuels over more sustainable energy sources. 

Thus, Sommer’s empty pledges are nothing more than greenwashing — a strategy of publicizing false sustainability efforts to earn environmental credibility among investors and the public. Sommers has even admitted on the record that API “strategically supports certain efforts to reduce climate pollution to secure legitimacy to continue to produce fossil fuels” and “further secure the industry’s license to operate.” 

Now that the GOP has taken over the House, the MAGA majority appointed twenty of Big Oil’s most reliable allies to the influential House Natural Resources Committee. The majority on this critical committee received a combined $3.8 million in campaign donations from the oil and gas industries, so don’t be surprised to hear Sommer’s dubious talking points on the House floor. Stay tuned as Accountable.US keeps an eye on their antics to shield the industry executives from scrutiny. 

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