Just hours after he said urging OPEC not to cut oil production was not in my domain, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that remark reflected more of my naivete than anything else and he would encourage OPEC members to promote stability in crude oil prices.
Chu's initial comment was made to reporters Wednesday morning after he addressed a meeting of state utility regulators. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is set to meet March 15 and there is speculation the cartel may again lower daily production levels to battle falling prices.
It was unclear whether Chu's comments reflected a shift by the Obama administration in the role the U.S. energy secretary will play in dealing with OPEC.
But this is not the first time he has expressed a lack of interest in the producer group, which supplies about half of America's crude oil and petroleum products.
Speaking to reporters in Williamsburg, Virginia, earlier this month, Chu said he did not pay much attention to what OPEC does.
OPEC is going to do what they're going to do based on their own interests, Chu said at the time, adding, I quite frankly don't focus on what OPEC should do; I focus on what we should do.
Previous U.S. energy secretaries met regularly with the energy ministers of OPEC's member nations, discussed the oil market and expressed both privately and publicly the U.S. position on OPEC production levels.
Bill Richardson, energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton, strongly lobbied OPEC ministers and actually telephoned them at their meeting and urged them not to slash output.
Energy Department press secretary Stephanie Mueller said later on Wednesday that Chu will continue to encourage OPEC nations to avoid price spikes.
She said Chu believes our primary focus should be making our country energy independent through investments in efficiency and renewable energy -- investments that will create millions of new jobs while freeing us from the grip of foreign oil.
Chu met last week with Algerian oil minister Chakib Khelil but the two did not discuss what may happen at OPEC's upcoming meeting and instead talked about the promises of renewable energy, Khelil told reporters.
But Khelil said days before the meeting and afterward that OPEC was more likely to cut production if U.S. oil prices remained below $40 a barrel. On Wednesday, crude oil prices settled at $34.62.
Nonetheless, Chu did not relay what is presumably White House concern that further production cuts by OPEC would tighten supplies more and put upward pressure on U.S. gasoline prices.
Chu came into office stressing that he was interested in promoting renewable energy sources and ending America's addiction to foreign oil.
But the reality is that oil will be a big energy source for the United States for the foreseeable future.
It is likely that the nation's reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will actually increase over at least the next two decades even with aggressive development and deployment of new renewable and nuclear technologies, Chu's Energy Department says on its website.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)