U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday urged U.S. energy companies to increase oil supply amid "enormous profits" as President Joe Biden seeks to bring down the price of gasoline for American families.
Granholm said the oil and gas industry had leases on 23 million acres of public lands on and offshore and thousands of permits that were not being used.
"At the same time the energy industry is making enormous profits. They're back up ... above where they were before the pandemic started. So they have taken advantage of that moment," Granholm told reporters.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday it will release millions of barrels of oil from strategic reserves in coordination with other countries after OPEC+ producers declined to heed calls from Washington to increase supply.
Granholm made clear that the administration also wanted domestic producers to do their part to add oil to the market, especially given high profits, which Granholm said the companies had used to engage in shareholder buybacks.
"We want to encourage them to increase supply. We want supply to be increased both inside the United States and around the world so that we can reduce the pressures at the pump," she said.
Granholm said energy companies had not rehired people who were let go because of the pandemic, had not turned on rigs and failed to take advantage of permits at their disposal.
Biden is under pressure to tackle inflation, which has dented his poll numbers. Granholm said the president did not have control over gasoline prices but reiterated that the administration was looking at every tool it could to shield families from the rising costs of fuel.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration did not rule out future releases from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve and said officials had been in touch with OPEC countries.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Jeff Mason in Washington Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Matthew Lewis)