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LONDON/WASHINGTON - When oil prices surged during Donald Trump's term in the White House, OPEC and its allies had to brace for a Twitter storm demanding action to bring prices down.
That has all changed under U.S. President Joe Biden. His team barely uttered a word this month when crude soared to more than $70 a barrel, an almost 40% rise from the start of 2021.
"Biden's people are busy on other fronts, like fighting the pandemic," said one OPEC source.
It is not just that Twitter is no longer the preferred means to communicate U.S. demands. OPEC sources say no-one from the Biden administration has even reached out informally to OPEC to complain about the latest oil price rise, which was fuelled by a decision in March by OPEC, Russia and others to stick broadly to existing production restrictions rather than to open the taps.
When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies meet again on April 1, traders and market sources say the group known as OPEC+ can pursue policies to prop up prices in the knowledge the White House won't be breathing down its neck.
"Right now is the ideal point in time," said an oil trade source and veteran OPEC watcher. "One doesn't need to worry about backlash from Washington, as Trump is gone."
After a demand slump sent oil prices crashing in 2020, crude has rebounded. Brent hit $71.38, on March 8, after the OPEC+ decision on March 4 to keep most of their production curbs in place.
Yet, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made no direct comment about the OPEC decision when asked about it on March 4 and instead said the United States was focused on helping Americans via the U.S. economic stimulus package.
Oil prices have now eased from their highs but are still up almost 20% this year, trading at $62 on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House said there had been no U.S.-OPEC contact on oil policy or prices since Biden took office on Jan. 20, although that did not mean the oil market was off the radar.
"The Biden Administration continues to monitor oil market developments carefully as economies reopen and oil demand recovers to ensure economic stability as a short-term imperative," the spokesperson said.
'FAR LESS VOCAL'
For now, OPEC+ delegates expect there will be no output increase or only a modest one agreed on April 1.
Asked if Washington wanted OPEC+ to agree to pump more oil, the NSC spokesperson said the government was "committed to supporting policies that ensure the American people have reliable access to sustainable and affordable energy resources."
The contrast with Trump's approach could not be more stark. The former U.S. president often took to Twitter to address the group directly and to demand publicly that it change policy.