President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to put together a plan to get funding to the struggling U.S. oil and gas industry as a historic sell-off in crude continued.
"I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!" Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, as West Texas Intermediate crude futures for May delivery again traded in negative territory.
The president's tweet did not specify how much money would be made available, or which oil and gas companies would be eligible to receive it. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the president's directive.
Trump's promise that his administration "will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down" came as a crude futures contract continued trading with a negative price, a day after falling below zero for the first time ever.
The nearest oil futures contract – WTI crude for May delivery, which expires Tuesday – collapsed Monday, settling below negative $37 per barrel. The negative price means producers would have to pay traders to take the oil off their hands.
The contract's price plunge rippled through the oil market on Tuesday. The June WTI contract cratered, falling 30% to less than $15 per barrel, and the United States Oil Fund, a popular exchange-traded security, sunk 20% after being halted before the opening bell.
The oil and gas industry has seen a historic sell-off amid the coronavirus pandemic. Government efforts to contain the spread of the virus – by closing nonessential businesses, ordering residents to stay in their homes and banning some travel – have upended daily life for millions and effectively ground economic growth to a halt.
"The problem is nobody is driving the car anywhere in the world," Trump said at a White House press briefing on the virus Monday evening. "Factories are closed and businesses are closed. And so, all of a sudden — we had really a lot of energy to start off with, oil in particular. We had a lot. And then, all of a sudden, they lost 40, 50% of their markets. So it just stopped."
"So it's going to be picking up, and the energy business will be strong," Trump said. "But they cut back."
When asked at that briefing if he was pushing to include funding to buy 75 million barrels of oil as part of an additional small business relief bill being negotiated in Congress, Trump appeared to pour cold water on the idea.
"No," Trump said, adding, "this is a great time to buy oil. And we'd like to have Congress approve it so that we could — instead of just storing it for the big — usually the big companies. Because I think we have 75 million gallons right now, capacity."
"So we're going to get — either ask for permission to buy it, or we'll store it. One way or the other, it will be full," the president said.