By Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top White House officials met Friday with oil executives to discuss Hurricane Ian and low gasoline inventories as President Joe Biden warns the industry not to price-gouge consumers, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The White House requested the meeting with eight oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Marathon Petroleum Corp, late on Thursday, the sources said.
Retail gasoline prices have spiked after a series of unplanned outages at refineries and scheduled maintenance at other plants combined to tighten supply. The retail average of $3.797 a gallon is 11 cents higher than a week ago, according to AAA, though overall prices remain lower than a month ago.
Biden has warned oil companies not to use the storm as a pretext to raise gasoline prices, which spiked earlier this year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"Do not, let me repeat, do not ... use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people" Biden said this week. "This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse for price increases at the pump, none."
Hurricane Ian brought devastation to Florida on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday, while Hurricane Fiona took a heavy toll on Puerto Rico earlier in the month.
The meeting was scheduled to involve National Economic Council director Brian Deese, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Amos Hochstein, a senior energy adviser at the State Department.
Prices have risen the most in the Midwest and West Coast after a fire at BP Plc's Toledo, Ohio, refinery and four different California refineries either shut for planned work or took units offline unexpectedly.
Tight refining supply has caused the gap between wholesale gasoline futures and retail prices to widen this year. It currently sits at about $1.30 a gallon, compared with an average of 88 cents over the past five years.
In a letter to the Energy Department, Exxon this week pushed back against reductions of U.S. fuel exports urged by the Biden administration in August, arguing that restricting shipments would further squeeze global supplies and lift pump prices at home.
"This week's letter from a company that made nearly $200M in profit every single day last quarter, misreads the moment we are in," Granholm said in a statement. "This is a time for American energy companies to take action to lower prices for consumers and to rebuild inventories of gasoline and diesel in this country that are below the five-year range."
Exxon declined to comment.
(This story has been refiled to update headline to reflect that the meeting has taken place)
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Arathy Somasekhar and Sabrina Vale in Houston; Editing by Heather Timmons, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)