UPDATE 2-Trump invites Big Oil to discuss help for ailing industry

(Adds comment from American Petroleum Institute official)

WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has invited oil executives to the White House to discuss potential aid for the industry, which has been hammered by slumping energy demand during the coronavirus outbreak and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report on the upcoming meeting citing unidentified sources, said Trump would discuss a range of options to help the industry, including the possibility of tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia.

The meeting is planned for Friday, with major drillers including Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Occidental Petroleum Corp expected to participate, according to the Journal. Officials at the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

An official for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the U.S. oil and gas industry, confirmed the planned meeting, but said: "We are not seeking any government subsidies or industry-specific intervention to address the recent market downturn at this time."

The API, many of whose members operate globally, has said in the past it opposes trade tariffs because it cam complicate projects and business relationships in other countries.

The lobby group on March 20, however, sent a letter to the Trump administration asking for relief from some regulatory requirements to ensure steady supplies during the coronavirus. The administration has since announced it will temporarily ease some of its environmental enforcement and reporting requirements on polluting industries.

World oil prices have lost roughly two-thirds of their value so far this year as the fast-spreading coronavirus brings global economies to a virtual standstill, and as Saudi Arabia and Russia flood the market with oil in a price war.

The collapse in prices has threatened the once-booming U.S. drilling industry, which has a relatively high cost of production, leading Washington to scramble for ways to protect the sector. Worries about the coronavirus, meanwhile, have crushed demand and forced refineries and other operations to run with skeleton crews.

Trump this week called Russia and Saudi Arabia's price war "crazy" and spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the issue. The Trump administration is also planning to send a special envoy to Riyadh to push for lower output. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason, and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Tom Brown and David Gregorio)

04/01/2020 20:02

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