By Timothy Puko and Christopher M. Matthews 

WASHINGTON -- President Trump promised oil-industry leaders the government would help revive the sector during a much anticipated White House meeting Friday.

Chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. and leaders of seven other energy companies joined the president as the new coronavirus pandemic slows the economy and ravages the energy business. Dwindling demand has helped to halve crude prices since January and more than 70 U.S. oil companies, already heavy with debt, are at risk of bankruptcy, energy analytics firm Rystad Energy said Friday.

"The entire world is shut down trying to get rid of this scourge," President Trump said about the pandemic before introducing oil executives at the meeting. "We'll work this out and we'll get our energy business back."

The first part of the meeting, mostly introductions and platitudes, ended after an hour. President Trump said there would be a news conference to discuss more developments later Friday.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are pressing the U.S. to coordinate cuts to oil output in an attempt to stabilize prices. The outcome of a virtual emergency meeting the two are planning for Monday with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may largely depend on whether President Trump and U.S. oil companies can reach a consensus on U.S. production cuts.

While some in the industry want the Trump administration to pressure the Saudis and Russians, many large U.S. oil companies oppose cooperation between the world's three biggest crude-producing nations, which would be unprecedented. Exxon Mobil and Chevron have lobbied against any market intervention, and the possibility wasn't discussed in the first part of the meeting.

Some smaller companies that drill U.S. shale wells want the government to intervene aggressively. Pioneer Natural Resources has pushed to find ways for the U.S. to join the plan led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Continental Resources and its founder and Executive Chairman Harold Hamm, who was at the meeting, have pushed for aggressive tactics such as antidumping measures or U.S. government investigations of the Saudis for flooding the market.

President Trump and administration officials have been working diplomatic channels to stabilize the market and have been exploring a wide range of domestic solutions. But options are limited to help beleaguered U.S. oil-and-gas companies in part because of U.S. antitrust laws and strong differences within the industry, making the prospect of any agreement challenging.

President Trump spent the early parts of the meeting touting the potential for an infrastructure package to go through Congress, though that idea is in only its earliest phases and has failed to gain traction at other times during President Trump's term. And he mentioned a plan to rent empty space in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to store oil for the private sector, a plan with wide support but with little capacity to make a material difference.

President Trump during a briefing said oil executives didn't ask for a bailout. "It was really more of a discussion than asking. We did discuss the concept of tariffs because, as you know, this was a dispute among a couple of countries," he said.

Referring to Russia and Saudi Arabia, he said, "they want to get it resolved."

The president was asked if he was considering tariffs on Saudi oil. He said that tariffs are a "tool in the toolbox" but he isn't considering them at this time.

"I think they are going to settle their dispute very quickly," President Trump predicted.

Write to Timothy Puko at tim.puko@wsj.com and Christopher M. Matthews at christopher.matthews@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 03, 2020 18:55 ET (22:55 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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