When his green credentials were challenged by a young campaigner, Joe Biden had a simple answer.
“Kiddo, I want you to look me in the eye,” the future president said in 2019, shaking his hand. “I guarantee you we’re going to be done with fossil fuels.”
Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, the Democratic hopeful promised to cut America’s use of “dirty” oil and gas and instead pump hundreds of billions of dollars into a renewable energy revolution.
However, nearly three years later – as Russia blackmails Europe over gas and Americans resent soaring oil prices – the president looks back on his war on fossil fuels and preaches a radically different message.
In a recent letter to some of America’s biggest oil companies, he chastised them for making big profits from rising prices and called for “immediate action to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel and other products.” refined”.
Biden’s decisions, which have enraged eco-warriors within his own Democratic Party, underscore growing alarm in the White House ahead of a potentially brutal midterm election.
But it also comes down to tacitly admitting that its energy policy, upended by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, appears to have gone awry.
Kathryn Porter, energy consultant at Watt Logic, said the president’s actions since taking office “constantly mean that he wants to protect the climate by reducing oil and gas production” and that he “supports that with new regulations for the industry”.
“But he didn’t take into account the impact of a price shock,” she adds.
“Now, with gasoline prices rising rapidly, he is backtracking and accusing the oil companies of profiting, when in reality they are responding to his policy as he intended, by cutting capacity.”
The year before Biden entered the Oval Office, the United States had just cemented its energy independence, becoming a net exporter of oil for the first time since 1949.
This has left America in a much stronger position than Europe during the current crisis, with the country shielded from the kind of gas supply problems that are keeping officials across the continent awake at night.
America has done this thanks to modern drilling breakthroughs that have sparked a huge shale boom since 2010, with heartlands such as the Permian Basin in Texas fueling a mighty production of 13 million barrels of oil a day.
During his election campaign, Biden scorned the industry and pledged to cut subsidies, saying he would ultimately like to see the use of coal and fracking “eliminated.”
He said he would not oppose existing fracking, but would prevent new mining licenses from being issued on federal lands and waters.
Hours after entering the Oval Office, he kept his word by issuing an executive order to that effect. Biden also revoked a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to Canada and signed U.S. support for the Paris climate accords, reversing past actions by former President Trump.
His decisions came at a time when the oil industry was still reeling from a collapse in demand in the early months of the pandemic, when Brent crude plunged to $19 (£15.6) a barrel .
In the summer of 2021, coronavirus restrictions were lifted and economies reopened, leading to a rebound in oil demand. But since then supply chains have struggled to keep up.