Russia-Ukraine war: More US drilling has never been on table, US labor secretary says

Sec. Walsh stresses the need to 'transition into clean energy'

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on Friday that more domestic drilling amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on global oil and gas prices has never been on table. 

Walsh made the comment on "Varney & Co." as the Biden administration has so far resisted calls both to increase domestic energy production and to block Russian oil as the conflict overseas escalates. 

Oil prices remained elevated early Friday.

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BNO UNITED STS BRENT OIL FD LP UNIT 32.59 +0.18 +0.56%
USO UNITED STATES OIL FUND L.P. 82.48 +0.48 +0.59%

U.S. benchmark crude hovered around $113 per barrel on Friday morning while Brent crude, the international price standard, was around $115 per barrel. 

Oil prices are set to post their strongest weekly gains since the middle of 2020, with U.S. crude up more than 22% and Brent at 16% after hitting their highest in a decade.

Signs of an escalation in the conflict overseas, with the reports of a fire at a Ukrainian nuclear power plant, spooked markets. Authorities reportedly said later that the fire in a building, identified as a training center, had been extinguished.

Host Stuart Varney pointed out on Friday that the surging price of energy is contributing to soaring inflation

"There’s an energy shortfall which we cannot make up unless we drill for our own oil and natural gas," Varney argued before asking Walsh if President Biden will "acknowledge that we’ve got a shortfall in domestic production" and if he plans to increase drilling in America. 

"I can’t answer the question for the president, but I can tell you that we’re looking at all avenues on how do we deal with energy in the United States of America," Walsh responded. 

Varney asked Walsh again if more domestic drilling is "on the table in the White House."

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"It hasn’t been to this point and certainly looking at what’s happening in the world right now that will have to be a conversation," the labor secretary responded. 

Varney then asked Walsh if he thinks the U.S. should be drilling more of its own oil and gas. 

"I’m not in a position to answer that question at this point, but certainly we have to watch and see what happens with Russia, we have to see what the world’s doing with Russia," he said in response before noting that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and others are urging the administration to ban Russian energy imports, with support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"If we did something like that, we’d have to figure a way to fill that," Walsh told Varney on Friday. 

He also argued that the U.S. must "continue to work on our energy plans," which includes clean energy and acknowledged that "it's not going to happen tomorrow."

"It can be painful in some sectors and some fields, but we have to transition into clean energy," Walsh added. 

In a series of orders aimed at combating climate change, President Biden temporarily suspended the issuance of oil and gas permits on federal lands and waters and canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

President Biden revoked the permit for the 1,700-mile pipeline on his first day in office, ending a project that was expected to employ more than 11,000 Americans last year.

Biden has come under increasing pressure to walk back resistance to domestic oil production in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, arguing such a move would help the U.S. "regain our dominance on the world stage."

Walsh provided the insight on Friday initially responding to Varney’s comment that wage increases are not matching soaring inflation, as indicated by the February jobs report, which was released shortly before his appearance on "Varney & Co."

The report showed average hourly earnings rose by 5.1% year over year last month, up from 5.7% the month before. But surging inflation – which hit a 40-year high of 7.5% year over year in January – has erased those would-be gains for workers.

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According to a Labor Department report released last month, U.S. price increases were widespread: Although energy prices rose just 0.9% in January from the previous month, they're still up 27% from last year. Gasoline, on average, costs 40% more than it did last year. 

The jobs report released on Friday revealed a surprising gain of 678,000 positions blowing past the 400,000 estimates. 

"Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, health care, and construction" as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The Unemployment rate fell to 3.8%, the lowest number since the coronavirus hit the U.S. and down from 4.0% in January.

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Walsh acknowledged on Friday that wage increases not meeting soaring inflation is a "problem."

He went on to argue that surging inflation is a result of "living in a global pandemic," supply chains and manufacturing disruptions, which has led to "the lack of getting goods and services to our country." 

Walsh noted that the "sad situation in Ukraine" is also contributing to that problem. 

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FOX Business’ Megan Henney, Breck Dumas, Tyler Olson and Edward Lawrence contributed to this report.