OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma — Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration’s “genuine hate” for fossil fuel producers and other traditional energy companies was at the forefront of a two-day-long summit on energy security here this week featuring top industry and business leaders and political voices from around the country.
Two different GOP presidential candidates—former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, both of whom will appear on the debate stage on Wednesday evening in southern California—spoke Monday here at the Hamm Institute for American Energy’s inaugural American Energy Security Summit. The summit, organized by billionaire founder and executive chairman of Continental Resources Harold Hamm, was a first-of-its-kind event bringing together top political leaders with top business and industry leaders to force a discussion on the future of American energy production.
Haley, in her remarks to the group, referred to a trip she took earlier in the campaign to visit workers on an offshore oil rig where she laid out her energy vision. She further expanded on it here, arguing that “every drop of American energy we produce is a godsend to American families” and energy “makes everything more affordable.”
“Unlike energy, common sense is in short supply these days,” Haley told the hundreds gathered on Monday. “In fact, in Joe Biden, we have a president who seems to genuinely hate American energy. We saw that fact on full display this week. Joe Biden made almost half the national petroleum reserve off limits to oil exploration. Americans are going to pay higher prices for this foolishness and get less energy. We’re going to get more dependent on foreign countries. That’s been consistent the past two years. More suffering at home and less security abroad. It’s the inevitable result of virtually every energy decision Joe Biden has made. He’s crushing producers under an avalanche of mandates. He’s blocked safe new drilling off our coasts. He canceled the Keystone pipeline. When the president talks, he demonizes companies like yours while insulting and ignoring the workers I met.”
Haley added that energy is “the cornerstone of our national power” and “the guaranteed path to opportunity and prosperity for our families,” as well as “the path to security in these dangerous times.”
“Joe Biden, God bless him, he wants all cars to be electric by 2030,” Haley said. “Think about that for a second. First of all, 70 percent of all the electric vehicles out there are made in China. But more than that, we don’t have the infrastructure for it. I’m not just talking about charging stations. Electric vehicles are heavy. Our roads and bridges won’t be able to handle all those electric vehicles by 2030.”
While Haley, who’s been rising in the polls since the first GOP debate last month in Milwaukee and has overtaken Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for second place behind former President Donald Trump in many surveys including in South Carolina and New Hampshire, was definitely the biggest political name to speak at the event, she was hardly the only sobering voice here who warned of the dangers of Biden’s energy vision and policies for the nation.
“We’ve got to turn away from the Biden administration’s policies 180 degrees the other direction,” Burgum, whose state North Dakota is home to many major energy projects and companies, said during a panel in the morning. “It’s got to happen. We can do it if we all work together.”
“In America today, if I say ‘pipeline’ somebody else says ‘protest,’” Burgum added later on when he came back on stage for an afternoon panel.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during an afternoon panel where former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao interviewed her former Trump administration colleague on stage, went so far as to say there is a pure “ideological hatred” from left-wingers in America running the Biden administration of the very people gathered in this room.
“The progressive left has an ideological hatred of fossil fuels,” Pompeo said. “That is a fair thing to say. They have a theory of the case with climate change. You can see the policies that began on day one from a regulatory perspective with Keystone to the withdrawal of permitting on federal lands—all of the things that build out capacity—and then all of the things that they do to try to destroy capital and take capital away from the markets in a way that will prevent investment.”
The backdrop of this event, of course, is that it comes amid not just the 2024 GOP presidential primary with the second debate on the stage of which both Haley and Burgum will appear—and the broader 2024 presidential election—but also in the lead-up to a government funding deadline later this week ahead of a potential government shutdown. Even so, several lawmakers—some from Oklahoma like Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and others from other states like Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC)—made the trek here for it on Sunday evening and Monday before their respective chambers of Congress reconvened for funding battles ongoing now. The day after the summit, Biden himself became the first American president to walk a picket line with United Auto Workers (UAW) strikers in Michigan—and although the topic conveniently did not come up during Biden’s trip to Michigan, his push for electric vehicles and away from gas and oil automobiles that run on internal combustion engines is obviously central to the strike—which comes right before Trump will head to Michigan on Wednesday to join the UAW strikes. Biden only decided to go to the picket line after Trump announced he was going.
“Trump was all in on American energy—there was no question about it. He wanted to drill baby drill as much as possible,” Stephen Moore, a distinguished fellow in economics at the Heritage Foundation who previously wrote for the Wall Street Journal, said in remarks during a presentation later in the day.
Moore noted that by 2019 during the Trump administration and thanks to his policies, the United States had surpassed the oil and natural gas production of both Saudi Arabia and Russia. “It’s pretty amazing—we became, for the first time, a world leader in production,” Moore said. “In those three or four years Trump was president, how many times did we talk about OPEC?”
But now that Biden’s in the White House, that changed quickly. The left’s goal, Moore noted—something he said that the Biden administration has been steering the energy industry towards—is “net zero.”
“This is the agenda of the left today—to go to zero on American fossil fuel production,” Moore said, adding: “If you wanted to invent something to destroy the American economy, you couldn’t come up with something that is doing more damage than destroying our energy supply.”
This incredible fork-in-the-road moment for American energy comes at a time when American voters can truly pick a path to prosperity by removing Biden and Democrats from power and restoring a Republican administration in November next year—or they can wade further down the road to ruin by reelecting Biden or installing another Democrat in his place should he not make it to election day next year. Moore said if the Trump-era policies return—basically every GOP candidate, Trump and the rest of them, have promised that in some form or another—a “boom” unlike any other is on the horizon.
“The consequences are great, but if things go right—and we get back to the kinds of policies we had in place four years ago—I’m going to say to you I think we’re going to see an incredible boom in this country,” Moore said. “I feel it coming… When you get the policies in line, you see the biggest boom you ever saw.”
The summit here, which occurred over two days the first of which featured a welcome ceremony at the Omni Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City and the second which was a packed day of panels and speakers at the Hamm Institute at Oklahoma State University, saw hundreds of energy industry officials gathered in a large ballroom seated around circular tables. In a world where most companies and executives and politics leaders are always seemingly looking for a way out of taking a tough position and not actually finding a solution, there was a refreshing rugged individualist mindset about those gathered here—these people want to get to work, and they want to get to yes. It’s just the government standing in the way in about a million possible forms.
Mike Sommers, the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, described it as a sort of “regulatory whiplash” facing U.S. businesses especially energy companies when moderating a panel with Duncan and Chao focused on permitting reform.
“The Trump administration really pushed back on the regulation and the regulatory environment and the Biden administration went right back to clamping down on American businesses. Can you talk a little bit about how that shift between administrations affects American businesses?” Sommers asked Chao.
“You know it’s amazing—for people that say they want employment and they want jobs, they do everything that’s possible to deter and hamper job creation,” Chao replied. “So I think more than anything there is a difference in philosophy and on the role of the government and what businesses actually do. There are those who actually think that if you’re a business and you make money you must be doing two things: You are either underpaying your employees or you’re overcharging your customers. So, for those that want to have job creation, there is not this regulation and understanding that most businesses want to obey the law, they want to do what’s right, and the laws have got to reasonable, of course, and understandable. The plethora of regulations coming out of the executive branch create a real disincentive for new jobs. So when we talk about whiplash, businesses are actually willing as many tell me to put up with higher expenses—higher cost structures—if they only have flexibility and also more importantly certainty. So they want to have certainty. And I think one of the main things that’s happening now at the Department of Labor for example is a whole new philosophy about employees versus independent contractors—all an assault against the gig economy which they feel is somehow taking advantage of workers, or it’s exploiting workers, rather than viewing it as giving greater flexibility and choice to employees or to workers who may have four hours a day or four hours a week they want to use to earn some additional money. A gig economy gives that flexibility and that freedom to workers. The whiplash really concerns businesses. All they want is certainty. They want to know what they’re supposed to do and then they’ll follow it—but they need to know what they’re supposed to do.”
Earlier in the panel, Duncan described how “environmentalists” on the radical left are constantly filing lawsuits and using courts to target new energy projects in the U.S.
“We’ve got to always figure out how we can address the litigation side of this because if environmentalists can continue to thwart progress on pipeline projects or energy projects and drag it out in the court system like they did Mount Valley or the Atlantic Coast pipeline, that’s a real problem for this nation as we try to make our energy secure,” Duncan said. “Working on pipeline permitting reform is going to be the next big thing in the pipeline safety reauthorization act. We’re just going to keep plugging away. This administration has a war on fossil fuels. Joe Biden said on the campaign trail that they wanted to try to kill the fossil fuel industry. There is a war on fossil fuels in this country and it’s a constant one in my opinion.”
Another major challenge that Chao identified was post-pandemic shifts in the workforce makeup.
“We basically have 10 million workers who have left the workforce and they’re not coming back,” Chao said, referring to before COVID versus after the pandemic. “You look at all these jobs that are available in the energy sector. You see Gov. Burgum here for example give a speech about the economic progress and the economic vitality of his state. They cannot find enough workers. People are going to North Dakota looking for jobs and they’re finding them. These are good-paying jobs and we need to encourage this job creation.”
Chao said that this is not unique to the energy sector though, pointing out that people who travel might find “workers missing from the transportation sector” and suggesting that “sometimes the TSA line is not as plentifully staffed as it used to be.”
“That’s a workforce issue—it’s one of the major issues we have in our country and it’s linked to this energy issue,” she said. “I want to go off what the congressman says—energy independence is our security for the world.”
Fred Smith, the founder and executive chairman of FedEx, noted the same thing about workforce productivity issues—and he blamed the Biden administration’s spring 2021 post-COVID “Recovery” plan for making it much worse.
“We have about 7 million working age men who are no longer in the workforce in the United States. So, you have more demand for labor than is available,” Smith said during a discussion moderated by Heritage’s Moore. “The real serious mistake, in my opinion, was the American Recovery Act plan of March of 2021 because it led to a just wholesale withdrawal of blue collar labor out of the workforce.”
Asked by Moore how Biden’s signature legislation led to millions of American men leaving the workforce to never return, Smith replied: “You made more money not working.”
“That’s not academic—I’m not an academician. But we saw it at FedEx,” Smith said. “We can have the finest AI, the best airplanes, the best technology—but at the end of the day it’s built around the package handlers who do the manual work who load the trucks and so forth. So, from the ‘American Recovery’ plan in March of 2021 through the first week of May we lost about 7 percent of the workforce. In some parts of the country, we couldn’t get blue collar labor at any price.”
Across America, Smith noted, “the commitment to work, the willingness to do hard jobs like loading and unloading trucks, that’s deteriorated.”
Despite the dark times American energy is going through due to Biden’s administration’s punishment of the industry, though, experts here—financial titans, industry analysts, and leaders in the energy field—seem to think the future is far brighter for traditional energy sources including fossil fuels especially natural gas than the future is for Biden Cabinet Secretaries seeking parking spaces to charge their electric vehicles. Just before this conference, news broke that not one but at least two of Biden’s Cabinet members—Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm—have had serious issues finding places to charge their electric vehicles even when on official business.
Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO David Solomon, for instance, said traditional energy companies are not going anywhere.
“First of all, traditional energy companies are hugely important to the global economy. They’re hugely important to Goldman Sachs. We work with them regularly…. I think it’s very, very important for the U.S. that we have energy security,” Solomon said during a discussion with FedEx’s Smith on stage here. “I think it’s very, very important that we continue to invest in the industry. I recognize there needs to be a transition over time but that transition is going to take time. One of the ways we’re better positioned to transition is if we have a strong, independent energy economy here in the United States. We’ve said—I think I’ve said publicly—that we’re all going to continue to finance traditional [energy] companies for a long time but we also have to figure how to get capital dedicated to the technologies that accelerate that transition. Last year, 82 percent of the energy in the world came from fossil fuels. Emissions in the world grew by 6 percent. So we have to continue to find new technologies that can take carbon out of the air and continue to find new technologies that can give us affordable ways to drive energy. This is going to take time and this is something that is a long term view. And I think candidly with what’s going on politically we’re in a better position to have a rational, honest conversation about that now than we might have been a couple years ago. I think that’s very important too.”
Solomon, for his part, predicted that inflation will continue to rise heading into 2024 and that despite the best efforts of the Federal Reserve to try not to again that interest rates will as well.
“We’ve made progress against inflation, but inflation I think is going to stick,” Solomon said, predicted a “slowdown” in the economy next year as interest rates keep spiking to tackle inflation.
Solomon, who also said he is “hugely bullish” on the future of the U.S. economy, also predicted brighter days ahead for the United States.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t have bumps in the road, but hugely bullish on the United States and hugely bullish on the [U.S.] position in the world,” Solomon said. “We have lots of issues and I think there are lots of things we could all do better, but when you get around the world our system, our freedoms, the things we do, I think we got the best model and the best mousetrap. It’s our job to continue to invest in it.”
Vicki Hollub, the president and CEO of Occidental Petroleum, told attendees here that there is an “over-abundance of natural gas in the United States.”
Hollub highlighted new technology she says Occidental is encouraging the pursuit of that combines natural gas combustion with oxygen instead of ordinary air “so with the emissions, there are no volatile organic emissions.”
“It captures the CO2 as part of the process so the CO2 drives the turbine,” Hollub said. “So, you have water as an output and CO2 is captured in a stream coming off of it which you can then use in oil recovery or use to make other products. I believe the combination of the abundance of natural gas that otherwise wouldn’t be developed without this kind of technology, I believe this technology will drive gas long into the future.”
Burgum, later in the day too, even predicted the rise of a whole new subset of the energy industry: “carbon management.”
“Carbon management is going to be a separate business and industry by itself,” the North Dakota governor said.
Amrita Sen, the founder and director of research at the global investment firm Energy Aspects, noted though for attendees that high energy prices on things like gas and diesel are “here to stay” for now. Sen urged attendees and people more broadly in the energy industry to get better at communicating.
“A lot of people today have mentioned the political environment but one thing I’ll say as an industry we are terrible at forecasting demand,” Sen said. “We are also terrible at communicating to the world at large how important oil is for everything we do. If you have a pen in front of you, touch it. Pretty much every part of that pen comes from the oil and gas industry. It’s petrochemicals… We have to get better at this because without that the underinvestment is going to continue because it becomes a them versus us thing.”
Sen, who in Sunday evening’s opening ceremony noted how 82 percent of the world’s energy usage was from fossil fuels—a percentage it has been at for decades—explained that during COVID when almost nobody was leaving their homes and the world was ground to a halt, the world still consumed 80 million barrels of oil a day. On average these days, the world consumes around 101 million barrels of oil a day.
“I go back to April 2020—peak COVID. All of us were at home—no traveling,” Sen said. “We still managed to consume 80 million barrels per day of oil. I don’t know what we were doing—ordering toasters or what you were doing at home. But that is how everlasting oil is, when 97 percent of the world’s industrial production was shuttered at that time. We still consumed 80 million barrels per day.”
Sen noted that while some models for the future expect oil usage to peak in the mid 2030s, even by 2050 models forecast that oil usage will still be near 100 million barrels per day—right around where demand is right now. Even so, she argued the world’s political leaders are not being honest about the costs of energy transitions to so-called renewable energy sources and things like electric vehicles.
“The [Biden] administration is very scared about high energy prices but my struggle—and not just with the U.S. administration, by the way, I see this with Europe all the time—if you are serious about energy transition why will you not talk about the true cost of transition? Energy transition is not going to be cheap,” Sen said.
But Sen joked about one particular breakthrough the industry seems to have made: LEGO, just before this event, ditched a leftist green fueled push to make plastics that were not oil-based and it is returning to using oil-based plastics.
“I saw a headline just before I came out that LEGO was trying to ditch oil-based plastics and it has found that by doing so it actually doesn’t reduce emissions and so it is going back to oil-based plastics,” Sen said. “It’s the best headline I’ve seen in a long time. We all know who LEGO is—LEGO is the most bullish, probably, company out there… It does tell you as an industry we need to educate people better because there’s this misnomer out there that oil and gas is super polluting.”