Oil executives cautiously optimistic about Trump policies

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Oil executives cautioned it is too soon to gauge the impact of President Donald Trump’s policy proposals on their businesses, but they are looking forward to hearing more about plans for energy regulation, trade and taxation.

U.S. President Donald Trump faces a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Tougher environmental regulations under the Obama administration stymied energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL crude pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, and required automakers and refiners to spend more to reduce pollutants.

Spirits at the CERAWeek conference this year have been buoyed by higher energy prices after a bruising two years for the oil and gas industry. Crude fell by more than 70 percent from mid-2014 to early-2016 amid a global supply glut.

Trump has vowed to bolster U.S. infrastructure spending and slash regulations, pledges welcomed by business leaders attending the annual energy event.

“We have a unique president today,” Continental Resources Inc Chief Executive Harold Hamm said on Wednesday, “unique in that he keeps his promises.” Hamm, an early supporter of the president, said: “It is a good start.”

Pro-energy policies and regulatory roll-backs anticipated from the new administration could lure more investment to the industry, but so far the details of Trump’s plans and a potential border adjustment tax remain unclear.

“Political rhetoric has to translate into tangible policy,” Vimal Kapur, president of Honeywell Process Solutions, said in an interview with Reuters.

“We’re exporting gas, so we’re very happy,” said Charif Souki, chairman of Tellurian Inc, which recently received approval to export liquefied natural gas to free trade agreement countries from its Driftwood project near Lake Charles, Louisiana.

But he added, “It’s too soon to say where the Trump administration is going to go on the long-term basis. We have to give them a chance to start articulating policy.”

Formerly the head of LNG exporter Cheniere Energy, Souki was a high-profile supporter of Democrat Hillary Clinton, donating to her presidential campaign and the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee.


Feelings toward proposed Trump administration policies were mixed among international energy officials, which could see their businesses and economies impacted by renegotiated trade policies.

Mexico, which imports over 800,000 barrels per day of fuels from the United States and supplies crude to U.S. refineries, has had a rocky relationship with the new administration, largely driven by a dispute over a proposed border wall.

But executives from Mexico stressed the importance of continued cooperation between the neighbors.

“There are large exchanges of services we contract from each other back and forward. It’s in our best interest to continue to construct and build on it, to make it stronger,” said Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, chief executive of state-run oil firm Pemex.

Trump’s desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has also drawn concern from Canada, which exports around 3.5 million barrels per day of crude to the United States.

“The NAFTA situation is yet to be determined. I think everyone is anxious to get after it,” said Al Monaco, chief executive of Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc.

For its part, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer and a long-time ally of the United States, struck a tone of optimism toward Trump’s support for the energy industry.

“We welcome the new administration’s attention to strategic energy issues. I personally look forward to working with the new administration,” said Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih.

Oil executives in the United States and abroad are closely watching a Republican proposal for a border adjustment tax, which would tax imports in a bid to spur U.S. production of goods and resources. Exported goods would be exempt from the tax.

“There’s a lot of speculation,” said Monaco, stressing the importance of getting heavy Canadian oil to U.S. refiners that rely on it.

While opponents of the border tax have said it could drive up the cost of gasoline and other fuels, refining executives have been hesitant to draw conclusions about its impact.

Dan Romasko, chief executive of Motiva Enterprises LLC, said it is hard to believe U.S. consumers would accept higher fuel prices due to a proposed border tax on imports.

Reporting by Liz Hampton and Marianna Parraga; Additional reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and Richard Valdmanis in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Leslie Adler