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White House defends easing oil sanctions on Venezuela, says ‘plenty of opportunities’ to drill in US

NSC Strategic Communication Coordinator John Kirby defended the White House easing oil sanctions on Venezuela, saying there are plenty of opportunities for companies to drill in the US.

NSC Strategic Communication Coordinator John Kirby on Monday defended easing oil sanctions against Venezuela, saying that there are plenty of untapped opportunities for companies to drill in the United States. 

The comments came in response to an inquiry from Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy, who asked Kirby why President Biden "would rather let U.S. companies drill for oil in Venezuela than here in the U.S.?" 

John Kirby

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky / AP Newsroom)

The question appeared to reference the Biden administration easing sanctions and allowing oil giant Chevron to pump Venezuelan oil if Venezuela’s government, led by President Nicolás Maduro, and its opposition agreed to resume long-stalled negotiations meant to find a common path out of their country’s complex crisis. 

Kirby told Doocy that his framing of the question was "not an accurate take on the president’s view," to which Doocy retorted that the president himself, earlier this month, said "there is no more drilling." 

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Kirby shot back that President Biden has issued 9,000 permits for drilling on U.S. federal lands – all of which, he said, are "being unused." 

"There are plenty of opportunities for oil and gas companies to drill here in the United States," Kirby said. "I’ll let Chevron speak for this particular issue of sanctions relief, but our expectation is it won’t be a lot of oil coming out of there. It will have to be shipped to the United States." 

Chevron Venezuela

The logo of Chevron is seen at the company’s office in Caracas, Venezuela April 25, 2018. (REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

"[I]t remains to be seen how much will get drilled down there. It will be up to Chevron to decide that," Kirby said. "But as a function of the sanction itself, that oil – whatever product is drilled – has to come to the United States." 

The comments came after representatives of Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition – including the faction backed by the United States and led by Juan Guaidó – met in Mexico City on Saturday, where they signed an agreement to create a U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor. 

The Treasury Department on Saturday announced its decision to allow California-based Chevron to resume "limited" energy production in Venezuela after years of sanctions that have dramatically curtailed oil and gas profits that have flowed to Maduro’s government.

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The decision by the Biden administration is the latest step in the softening of hostile relations between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments. It came weeks after a major prisoner swap in which Venezuela freed seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the U.S. freeing two nephews of Maduro’s wife. Maduro released two other Americans in March.

During his first hours in office, Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day to Texas for refining. He also imposed a "pause" on oil and gas leasing on federal lands. The 9,000 number the White House has repeatedly cited includes permits that were approved during prior administrations, and also includes permits for which exploration may not have been completed and for which the funding to drill may not yet have been secured. 

Venezuela produces at most 800,000 barrels of oil per day. That figure is up from the average of 525,000 barrels it produced a year ago, but far off its failed target of 1 million a day by the end of 2021 and nowhere near the more than 3 million barrels per day the country was producing in the 1990s.

Venezuela’s oil is also heavier and grimier and is more suited for making asphalt and petrochemicals rather than being used for cars. Extracting gasoline and diesel from Venezuela’s oil would require a complicated refining process. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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