HOUSTON – Energy industry representatives pushed back on a comment from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Monday regarding unused oil and gas leases, accusing the Biden administration spokesperson of misleading Americans with a "red herring."
Fox News asked Psaki Monday why President Biden won't resume new oil and gas leases on federal lands. She responded that the United States is already producing oil "at record numbers" and said "there are 9,000 approved drilling permits that are not being used."
"So, the suggestion that we are not allowing companies to drill is inaccurate," she added. "I would suggest you ask the oil companies why they’re not using those if there’s a desire to drill more."
But, industry representatives at the CERAWeek energy conference sponsored by S&P Global Monday said the answer is not as simple as Psaki suggested.
"That accusation is a complete red herring," American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC) CEO Anne Bradbury told FOX Business. "It's really a distraction from the fact that this administration has paused leasing on federal lands, something that we're concerned about and something that we think needs to continue right away,"
Bradbury also said the Biden administration is "required under the law" to sell oil and gas leases on federal lands.
"The fact is that industry is producing at a higher level on existing leases on federal lands than in the last 20 years and these leases take many years to explore, to develop and produce on," Bradbury added.
"This represents a fundamental misunderstanding as to how this process works," American Petroleum Institute (API) president and CEO Mike Sommers told FOX Business when asked about Psaki's comments. "Once you lease land there is a whole process that you have to go through. First you have to actually discover whether actually there is oil and gas in that land. Second of all, you have to get a permit to actually develop that land."
Sommers added: "Right now we actually are developing more leases than we have in two decades so the White House certainly doesn't have their facts straight on this."
Energy Workforce and Technology Council CEO Leslie Beyer similarly said "some permits are viable and some are not," as a reason for why many are sitting unused. The federal leasing moratorium also isn't helpful in the current energy environment, she said.
"The moratorium on leasing certainly adds an additional… block to American energy production, so that is the opposite of what we need to be doing right now," she said. "We need to stop the rhetoric that's anti-fossil fuel and we need some clarity just in the regulatory sense that this administration is behind domestic energy production."
Energy industry representatives told FOX Business at CERAWeek Monday that the U.S. is effectively at its capacity for oil and gas production under the current regulatory framework. They said that it would take at least months or even years of investment in extraction and infrastructure to significantly increase output and potentially backfill Europe's energy needs, which are currently filled by Russia.
But the administration needs to create the proper regulatory environment for that to happen, they said.
"There's a lack of investment," Beyer said. "We need capital to be able to develop these assets. And certainly while that is the choice of the investors, the rhetoric coming from the administration and everything that is anti-fossil fuel informs those choices."
Many Republicans – and even some Democrats – are pushing the Biden administration to allow for more energy production in the U.S. amid Russia's war with Ukraine. Much of Europe is reliant on Russia for its energy, and they suggest if the U.S. increases its production and export capacity it could help Europe wean itself from Russian energy that's being used to fund the war against Ukraine.
FOX Business' Ralph Giordano and Edward Lawrence contributed to this report.