Skip to main content

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, center, tours the New London State Pier facility on May 20.Jennifer McDermott/The Associated Press

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is expected to meet with refining executives on June 23 as tensions between the White House and Big Oil mount over soaring gasoline prices, sources told Reuters on Thursday.

The planned talks come as President Joe Biden, under pressure over high gasoline prices, has demanded that oil refining companies explain why they are not putting more fuel on the market as they reap windfall profits.

Energy companies are enjoying bumper profits since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as punitive U.S. sanctions against Moscow add to a global supply squeeze driving crude prices around $120 a barrel and U.S. gasoline prices to records over $5 a gallon.

The Energy Department had no comment, but referred to a letter Biden sent on Wednesday to executives from companies, including Marathon Petroleum Corp, Valero Energy Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp, that said he had directed Granholm to hold an emergency meeting in coming days.

The U.S. oil industry’s main trade groups pushed back on Wednesday in a letter to Biden, pointing out that the nation’s oil refineries are already running at close to full capacity - currently at 94% of capacity.

“Any suggestion that U.S. refiners are not doing our part to bring stability to the market is false,” said Chet Thompson, the head of the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters the administration wants to hear ideas from energy companies, saying “maybe there’s a way that we can help them meet that capacity.”

Of the coming Granholm meeting Jean-Pierre said: “We want to try to start that conversation and get something done...we are willing to help them.”

Her comments were more congenial than Biden’s remarks last week in which he said “Exxon made more money than God this year.”

The White House, concerned about voter anger ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, has attempted to curb energy inflation by releasing record amounts of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and by waiving some anti-smog regulations for summertime blends of gasoline.

The administration could take additional steps to try to push prices down such as using the Cold-War era Defense Production Act to restart idled refinery capacity or provide waivers to the Jones Act, a law that requires U.S.-flagged ships to transport oil between U.S. ports.

Biden’s letter to refiners also said Granholm would talk about how to deal with high oil prices with the National Petroleum Council, a privately-funded panel of energy experts that makes recommendations to the energy secretary and executive branch.

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.