Biden Bans Imports of Russian Oil, Natural Gas


The U.S. will ban imports of Russian oil, President Biden said, targeting the lifeblood of Moscow’s economy as the West ratchets up pressure on Russian President

Vladimir Putin

over his invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports, and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday at the White House.

The U.S. will also ban imports of Russian natural gas and other energy sources, Mr. Biden said. He acknowledged that many of the U.S.’s European allies won’t be able to take similar action right away because of their heavy dependence on Russian energy. “We can take this step when others cannot,” he said, adding that the U.S. is working with Europe on a long-term strategy to wean off of Russian energy.

The administration’s deliberations about imposing a ban ramped up as lawmakers of both parties, including House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi,

called for action on the issue.

President Biden delivering remarks on the crisis in Ukraine at the White House on Tuesday.



Photo:

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Russian oil makes up a small proportion of the crude that the U.S. imports. The U.S. gets most of its crude imports from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. and its allies in Europe have unleashed a wave of sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, but until now they have largely avoided targeting the country’s oil sector, out of fear that limiting oil sales could cause crude prices to spike globally. Oil prices have already risen 58% since the beginning of the year and on Monday neared $140 a barrel.

The U.K. government said Tuesday it will phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022. Russian oil imports currently make up 8% of U.K. demand. The government is also exploring options to end Russian gas imports altogether.

The European Union said Tuesday that it planned to cut its imports of Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of this year.

Some Western government officials are pushing for the Group of Seven leading economies to work together to help European nations wean themselves off Russian oil and gas. This would include helping countries build more LNG terminals, rerouting deliveries from other nations and working with countries in the Middle East to increase production. However, officials believe such a shift could take years to play out, given the high level of dependence and the long term gas contracts that exporters have already signed.

Mr. Biden said he wants to do everything he can to insulate Americans from continued oil and gasoline price increases, but he also warned that the crisis in Ukraine could have domestic costs. He urged companies not to impose excessive price increases in response to the ban.

Biden administration officials and other allies of the White House worried privately that gasoline-price increases resulting from the ban could be a political liability for Democrats, people familiar with the matter said, noting that Republicans have already been criticizing the president over prices for months. The average price for regular gasoline in the U.S. hit $4.173 a gallon, a record high, AAA said early Tuesday.

In recent days, as Russia continued its assault on Ukraine and pressure mounted from both senior Ukrainian officials and members of Congress, the administration took a more serious look at the ban, the people familiar with the internal discussions said.

In a video call on Saturday, Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

appealed directly to U.S. lawmakers to support a ban on Russian oil imports. Bipartisan legislation in the House and the Senate has picked up support from dozens of lawmakers.

Mrs. Pelosi told House Democrats on Tuesday morning that she planned to move ahead with legislation banning Russian oil imports, according to a Democratic aide. She said the White House had been telling her for days that they would impose the ban, the aide said.


Ukrainians Seek Safety as Russia Presses Its Attack

The mass flight from the fighting in Ukraine continued as Russian forces launched strikes on cities and military targets.

Residents fled from fighting in the town of Irpin, Ukraine, near the front line on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Monday.

roman pilipey/Shutterstock

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The House could vote as soon as Tuesday on the bill to ban oil and other energy imports from Russia, said House Majority Leader

Steny Hoyer

(D., Md.) The legislation won’t include other measures Democrats had initially advocated for, such as taking steps to deny Russia access to the World Trade Organization, lawmakers said.

The White House had sought to persuade Democrats not to move forward with the legislation because they were planning an executive action, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer, responsible for more than 10% of global supply, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Its exports account for 7% of the world market, half of that going into Europe, according to analysts.

Europe’s reliance on Russian oil makes any decision about banning Russian imports on the continent particularly complicated. U.S. officials said they have been in regular communication with allies in Europe as they discussed the ban.

The price for gasoline in the U.S. hit a record high, tracking a surge in global energy markets.



Photo:

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Oil analysts have said that sanctions previously imposed on Russia have already discouraged banks and oil companies from buying the country’s crude, and the sharp increase in oil prices in recent days is a sign the market expects further disruptions. Exxon Mobil Corp.,

BP

PLC and

Shell

PLC all announced plans to exit Russian operations last week. Shell went further on Tuesday, saying it would halt all spot purchase of crude from the country and phase out its other trading and business dealings.

Though the U.S. is the world’s biggest oil producer, it still imports millions of barrels each day from other parts of the world because the country consumes far more oil than companies extract domestically.

About 8% of U.S. imports of oil and refined products, or about 672,000 barrels a day, came from Russia last year, according to EIA data. Of that, Russia’s crude made up roughly 3% of the nation’s imports, about 200,000 barrels a day.

Republican lawmakers have called on Mr. Biden to increase domestic oil production in response to the crisis in Ukraine. “The challenge is that President Biden still won’t say ‘yes’ to American energy, because to replace that Russian oil is the real critical step,” House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) said. “The answer is right beneath our feet.”

The president signaled on Tuesday that he has no plans to change course from his efforts to shift the U.S. toward low-carbon energy sources in the coming years.

“This crisis is a stark reminder: to protect our economy over the long term we have to become energy independent,” Mr. Biden said, adding later, “Loosening environmental regulations or pulling back clean energy investment won’t lower energy prices for families.” Mr. Biden called on energy companies to drill on the untapped federal leases that they already have.

Soon after taking office, Mr. Biden revoked a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and halted new oil and gas leasing on federal land. The Biden administration resumed lease sales after its effort to pause them was struck down by a federal judge.

The Biden administration issued more permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land in its first year than former President

Donald Trump’s

administration did in his first year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which based its analysis on federal data.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com, Justin Scheck at justin.scheck@wsj.com and Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

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