Pence-backed ad wrongly blames Biden for spike in Russian oil purchases

— Voiceover from a new commercial, “horrible decisionvia former Vice President Mike Pence’s political organization, Advancing American Freedom, March 7

Well, this announcement is certainly not subtle. It starts with vivid and chilling footage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – then links President Biden’s “horrendous decision” to shut down the Keystone XL pipeline to increased US purchases of Russian oil.

The text appears at one point: “U.S. dependence on Russian oil hits record high.” And then another text appears: “The United States is ‘paying Putin to invade’ Ukraine”. This is attributed, oddly enough, to “oil analyst, Fox News”. (Turns out it’s Stephen Schork, a former commodities trader and research analyst who writes a newsletter.)

The Pence Organization says it will spend $10 million to target 16 congressional Democrats with this message. The ad ends by urging viewers to contact lawmakers to “support America’s security instead of Russia’s terror.” Images of explosions and the sound of a woman’s scream close the announcement.

Given that Biden announced a halt to Russian oil and gas imports on Tuesday, the announcement already looks rather outdated. Moreover, the ad shows little understanding of energy markets and unjustifiably suggests that Biden is responsible for increased Russian oil purchases. Energy analysts say other factors — predating the Biden administration — are responsible.

Hours after taking office, Biden canceled the planned construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move was designed to signal that the Biden administration was taking a tougher stance on fossil fuels and turning to cleaner energy.

We have written numerous fact checks on this project over the years, both on exaggerated claims about the number of jobs that would be created and on false claims that oil passing through it would bypass the United States. If built, the crude oil would have traveled to the Gulf Coast, where it would have been refined into products such as motor gasoline and diesel fuel, with an estimated 70% of the refined product being consumed in the States. -United.

But here’s the rub – despite President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic support, the pipeline had still not been built due to legal battles and other challenges. So even if Biden hadn’t canceled it, there’s little chance it was built now. The move was more symbolic than anything else. (Also, in the last 10 years, oil production from the tar sands has doubled, more than the Keystone XL would have carried, and it’s transported by rail and other pipelines.)

The announcement only mentions Biden’s cancellation of the pipeline, not his other energy policies. In a press release accompanying the announcement, Pence issued a statement also referring to “the restoration of oil and natural gas leases.”

Biden announced the termination of all new federal oil and gas leases shortly after taking office. But the Washington Post reported that in his first year, Biden overtook Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands — in part because a federal judge last June overturned Biden’s executive order. The administration therefore took over the rental, to the chagrin of environmentalists.

It could possibly be argued, as some analysts do, that the actions of the Biden administration — such as the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline and oil and gas leases — shaped market perceptions that led to higher prices. petrol. But the ad doesn’t make that argument. He only mentions the pipeline as a “horrendous decision” made because of “radical environmentalists”.

Next, the ad cuts to the claim that Biden “dramatically increased Americans’ reliance on Russian oil.” We take a reasonable person’s test when evaluating these ads and believe most viewers would link Keystone’s cancellation to higher Russian oil purchases. After all, both statements are made in the same sentence.

Even if the claims were decided to be related, analysts say the increase in Russian oil purchases stems from factors that predated the Biden administration. In particular, analysts point to Trump’s decision in 2019 to impose sanctions on Venezuelan oil and international emissions rules for shipping that went into effect in 2020.

“Overreliance on Russian oil increased after Venezuela sanctions,” said Robert McNally, founder and chairman of the Rapidan Energy Group, who was responsible for international energy policy while on the staff of President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He said U.S. refiners, which had been Venezuela’s main customer, had optimized Venezuelan crude and turned to Russian petroleum products, such as low-quality fuel oil known as mazut, because Venezuelan crude could be easily replaced without overhaul for a cleaner type of oil. raw.

“The increase in Russian oil exports to the United States in recent years is mainly due to the sanctions against Venezuela,” acknowledged Kenneth Gillingham, a professor of economics at Yale University who served on the Council of White House economic advisers during the Obama administration. . “Venezuela typically produces ‘sour’ crude oil with higher sulfur content, and a number of refineries on the Gulf Coast have been optimized for this crude. Russia produces similar grades of crude that can easily substitute for Venezuelan crude. »

Jason Bordoff, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council staff, pointed to another factor: “Russian imports have increased in part because new maritime sector emissions rules in early 2020 reduced demand for Russian heavy oil, and US refiners took advantage of reduced prices offered by Russian companies. The new emissions rules were imposed by the International Maritime Organization because shipping has traditionally relied on cheaper, lower-quality high-sulphur fuel oil.

We had lengthy email exchanges with a Pence spokesperson, but ultimately did not receive an official statement.

This is powerful advertising with emotional impact, and regular readers know we hold these ads to a high standard of factual accuracy. The ad sneakily tries to make two separate statements — Biden canceled the Keystone pipeline and Russian oil imports peaked under Biden — but does so in a way that virtually any viewer will think the two are related. After all, he denounces the cancellation of the pipeline as a ‘horrendous decision’ as images of bomb blasts and scared Ukrainians fill the screen, along with text claiming Biden is ‘paying’ Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

But the Keystone pipeline would still not be complete by now, even if Biden had allowed it to go ahead. And Russian oil imports — which still make up a relatively small share of U.S. energy purchases — have surged due to factors unrelated to the actions of the Biden administration. So the juxtaposition is so misleading that we consider this ad to be a big lie.

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