What does Trump actually think about oil, OPEC?

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As is the case with most of his policy stands, Donald Trump has spoken only generally about how he thinks Washington should treat energy production in the U.S., expressing strong support for the oil, natural gas and coal industries, and promising to cut funding for what he sees as excessive regulation.

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But this week in North Dakota, the presumptive Republican nominee for president may reveal more about his views on promoting domestic energy, and perhaps take another shot at Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Trump is scheduled to deliver a keynote address Thursday at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck to an audience of oil and gas operators whose drilling in the Bakken shale formation has made North Dakota the second-leading oil-producing state in the U.S.

Given the venue, it’s no surprise that Trump is expected to offer another full-throated endorsement of the resurgence in U.S. oil and gas production that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the shale formations of North Dakota, Texas and other states over the last 10 years.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Lawrenceville National Guard Armory in what is Trump's first public campaign appearance in New Jersey, on May 19.© Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Lawrenceville National Guard Armory in what is Trump’s first public campaign appearance in New Jersey, on May 19.

What’s uncertain is what else he may have to offer producers, and whether he’ll call for measures to protect them from actions taken by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members now that oil prices are in a two-year slump.

One person who’s counting on him to do so is Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican and former state utility regulator, who has endorsed Trump and been enlisted as an informal energy adviser to the Trump campaign.

Cramer, along with fellow Republican Trent Franks of Arizona and Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota, introduced legislation earlier this year that would authorize a bipartisan commission to investigate OPEC for possible unfair trade practices.

“He and I have not talked about his position on the bill that I (cosponsored),or on the forming of a commission or OPEC’s trading tactics, but we’ve all listened to him enough to know his America-first policy angle and emphasis, and it seems like it would fit with this,” Cramer told reporters outside an energy conference in Washington last week.

“This is a way to make sure that now that we have access to global markets that our competitors are playing by the same rules or at least fair rules,” said Cramer, who supported a bill passed in 2015 that ended 40-year-old restrictions on U.S. oil exports. “We can’t change the fact that you can produce oil in the desert much cheaper than you can in the shale, but we shouldn’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

Earlier in the week, Cramer, a climate-change skeptic, provided the Trump campaign with several pages of general ideas on energy policy, including suggestions for reductions in environmental regulations and new tax provisions that would treat all forms of energy evenly.

While Cramer insists he hasn’t drawn any conclusions yet, his work on the legislation demonstrates that he suspects efforts by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to protect their market share in the face of the prolonged oil-price slump, including pumping oil at record-high levels, are anti-competitive and warrant some sort of response from the U.S. government.

The bill isn’t clear as to what actions might be taken by Washington, other than to say they would include “policy reform in the areas of taxes, trade, defense, and research and development, and diplomacy, among others.”

But Cramer thinks the mere introduction of the bill “sends an important message that you’re not going to get by with collusion or monopoly tactics.”

He found a friendly audience for his proposal at the conference, which was held by Securing America’s Energy Future, a group of business executives and retired military leaders who promote policies to strengthen U.S. energy security.

SAFE released a report with recommendations including a commission along the lines of the one proposed in Cramer’s legislation.

The discussion over OPEC comes as tensions between Washington and Riyadh heighten. Among the latest indications was a unanimous vote by the Senate Tuesday to allow families of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any involvement in the terrorist incidents.

President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

Earlier this year, Trump told The New York Times editorial board that he would be willing to cut off oil purchases from Saudi Arabia if the kingdom didn’t do more to support the war on the Islamic State.

With his appearance in North Dakota this week, Trump may offer more insight on what his “Make America Great Again” campaign means for world oil markets.

Bill Loveless — @bill_loveless on Twitter — is a veteran energy journalist and podcast host in Washington. He is the former anchor of the TV program Platts Energy Week.

What does Trump actually think about oil, OPEC?