Biden goes off-script to concede oil demand will last for years

President Joe Biden's unusual assessment laid bare the conflict between his administration's climate and economic goals. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden went off-script during an otherwise climate-friendly State of the Union speech on Tuesday night to state an uncomfortable reality for the White House: “We are still going to need oil and gas for a while.”

The unusual assessment from the President slipped twice into his address to Congress and was not included in prepared remarks circulated beforehand.

It lays bare the conflict between his administration’s climate and economic goals.

Mr Biden has repeatedly exhorted oil companies to invest in pumping more crude even as he seeks to end its use.

Other comments during the speech underscored the still-simmering tension between Mr Biden and US oil companies.

He once again blasted them for using record profits to buy back stock – “rewarding their CEOs and shareholders” – instead of ploughing that money into more drilling to increase production and “keep gas prices down”.

Mr Biden said oil executives he had pressed on the issue told him bluntly: “We are afraid you are going to shut down all of the oil wells and all the oil refineries anyway, so why should we invest in them?”

“We are going to need oil for at least another decade,” he said, quickly adding, “and beyond that”, after boos from some lawmakers.

Mr Biden’s comments may offer partial comfort to some oil industry representatives who have insisted they need more encouraging signals from Washington about the enduring need for fossil fuels in order to lure more capital and drive investments that take decades to pay off.

“The President is right that Americans and the world will continue to need affordable, reliable energy for decades to come,” Mr Ben Marter, vice-president of the industry’s top lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, said by e-mail. “So, why attack the industry working day and night to provide it?” BLOOMBERG

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