Oil prices skidded more than $6 a barrel on Wednesday amid a push by US President Joe Biden to bring down soaring fuel costs, including pressure on the country's major energy firms to help ease the pain for drivers during peak summer consumption.
By 0718 GMT U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were off lows but still down $5.98, or 5.46%, at $103.54 a barrel. Similarly, Brent crude futures dropped $5.67, or 4.95%, to $108.98 a barrel.
As the United States, the world's largest oil consumer, struggles to tackle soaring gasoline prices and inflation, President Joe Biden is expected to call on Wednesday for temporarily suspending the 18.4-cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline, a source briefed on the plan told Reuters.
"I think the non-stop Biden headlines, with the administration seemingly in inflation panic mode, have played a part in the latest sell-off as investors hate any uncertainty, even if irrational in the context of the known supply concerns," said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, in a note.
Seven oil companies are set to meet Biden on Thursday, under pressure from the White House to drive down fuel prices as they make record profits.
Chevron Chief Executive Michael Wirth, however, said on Tuesday criticising the oil industry was not the way to bring down fuel prices.
"These actions are not beneficial to meeting the challenges we face," Wirth said in a letter addressed to Biden, which sparked a response from Biden saying the industry was being too sensitive.
Despite worries about inflation, demand is still on the road to recovery to pre-COVID levels and supply is expected to lag demand growth, keeping the market tight, as flagged by trading giant Vitol and Exxon Mobil Corp this week.
"From here, a more likely outcome is a widening of the Brent premium over WTI," Jeffrey Halley, analyst at energy consultancy OANDA said in a note, adding that Brent is the internationally traded benchmark and in the real world, supplies remain tight.
US oil refining capacity fell in 2021 for the second year in a row, latest government data showed on Tuesday, as plant shutdowns kept whittling away at their ability to produce gasoline and diesel.
The official data showed a capacity decline of 125,790 barrels per day (bpd) last year on top of the 800,000 bpd drop in 2020.
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