Saudi Energy Minister: Depleting Strategic Oil Reserve to ‘Manipulate Markets’ Could Be ‘Painful’

Saudi Arabia's Minster of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud waits his turn to spe
AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman issued a warning, seemingly directly at far-left American President Joe Biden, that countries emptying their strategic oil reserves in an attempt to lower fuel prices could face “painful” consequences for their choice.

The remark follows a month of heightened tensions between the Saudi monarchy and the Biden administration that began with the oil cartel OPEC+ announcing a dramatic two-million-barrel-per-day reduction in its oil production, which would significantly raise oil fuel prices around the world. Biden officials accused the cartel, which includes Russia but is largely guided by the Saudis, of trying to help Russia’s eight-year-old invasion of Ukraine, an allegation Riyadh balked at. Rising oil prices, the argument goes, would make Russian oil worth more and thus funnel more money to Moscow. High oil prices clearly also benefit Saudi Arabia, an oil-dependent economy – a reality the Biden administration has not addressed in its condemnations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to side with the Saudi government, publishing a statement shortly after Washington raised its accusations announcing he had spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and expressing gratitude for the country’s support.

Zelensky’s vote of confidence appears to have done little for the Biden administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had both sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and negotiated the release of hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war from Russia but said these facts “do not compensate for the decision that was made by OPEC+ on production.”

What has followed has been a barrage of anonymous rumors to major American newspapers, most prominently the Wall Street Journal, claiming that bin Salman has personal distaste for Biden, mocks his “mental acuity” in conversation with his officials, and “duped” the White House by promising to increase oil production shortly before the OPEC+ announcement.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the energy minister, appeared to disapprove of Biden’s policy of depleting the American Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to a 40-year low this year to keep prices down before the midterm elections, which most predictions expect to yield disastrous results for the Democrats. The SPR was created to keep an emergency supply of oil at the ready in the event of war or other calamity; Biden has chosen to empty it instead of allowing American companies to drill for more of the nation’s plentiful natural resources.

The prince made his comments on Tuesday during the Future Investment Initiative (FII), a Saudi investment conference.

“People are depleting their emergency stocks, had depleted it, used it as a mechanism to manipulate markets while its profound purpose was to mitigate shortage of supply,” the energy minister observed, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “However, it is my profound duty to make it clear to the world that losing emergency stock may become painful in the months to come.”

Reports on the conference did not note that he elaborated on the remark and did not appear to mention any nation in particular. The report on his comments in the Saudi news network al-Arabiya also did not add anything expounding on what he meant by “painful.”

Abdulaziz bin Salman continued to express what appeared to be frustration with the Biden administration’s accusations that Riyadh had chosen Moscow over Washington, though again reportedly not pointing out the United States by name.

“We keep hearing you ‘are with us or against us,’ is there any room for ‘we are with the people of Saudi Arabia’?” he asked.

When specifically questioned about growing tensions with Biden, the energy minister reportedly said that his government had chosen to be the “maturer guys” in the dispute “and let the dice fall.” He went on to tout Saudi Arabia as the world’s most reliable oil supplier and suggested that his country would play a role in ensuring European oil supplies for the coming winter, which have been heavily jeopardized by Western European countries choosing to rely almost entirely on Russia for their energy, then sanctioning Russia for invading Ukraine eight years later.

“We are communicating with many European governments regarding the current crisis, as Europe is witnessing a critical stage in supply chains.” Prince Abdulaziz reportedly said. “In the coming months, we will supply oil to all who need it from us.”

The FII, a conference intended to attract foreign investment to Saudi Arabia, has reportedly become a point of contention between Saudi Arabia and America itself. AFP reported that it received confirmation from the event that Biden administration officials did not get an invite, but, Reuters noted, former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “was featured as a front-row speaker.” During his term in office, Trump tasked Kushner with bringing peace to the Middle East.

Kushner’s presence at the conference was consistent with a Wall Street Journal report published on Monday claiming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman repeatedly complained about Biden behind the scenes and has said he “much preferred former President Donald Trump.”

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 37-year-old day-to-day ruler, mocks President Biden in private, making fun of the 79-year-old’s gaffes and questioning his mental acuity,” the newspaper added, citing “people inside the Saudi government.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the report.

Biden has largely fought high gasoline prices by depleting the SPR. The reserve experienced a 40-percent drop in supply between Biden assuming the presidency in January 2021 and October of this year, resulting in the reserve reaching 1984 levels. Biden has released more barrels of oil from the SPR than all other presidents combined. Last week, Bloomberg News reported that Biden was planning to dump another 10 to 15 million barrels of oil from the reserves into the American market.

The tactic has prompted widespread outrage among Republicans, who support drilling for more oil and keeping the SPR well stocked in case of emergency.

“This is a political Band-Aid to cover up the crisis caused by Biden’s war on American energy,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) lamented this month.

“The #SPR was built for a national energy crisis—not a Democrat election crisis,” another lawmaker, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), similarly complained.


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