BISMARCK — Former U.S. Secretary of State and rumored presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo touted the importance of the oil industry to American national security Thursday, May 13, and urged a room full of oil and gas producers in Bismarck to raise their voices against the ambitious climate priorities of President Joe Biden's administration.

Speaking to a crowd of oil industry officials, the former top Trump administration diplomat said the preservation of the U.S. fossil fuel industry will be critical to maintaining security against other global energy juggernauts such as Iran, China and Russia, calling on fossil fuel advocates to protect their interests by countering the pressures of the environmentalist movement.

"These progressive clean energy processes, these proposals, are a little bit about energy and a little bit about climate and a lot about control," said Pompeo, who ran a Kansas-based oilfield services company before launching a long career in politics. He added later, "Be louder. Tell the story. Tell the story with pride and a smile on your face."

Pompeo's appearance at this year's Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck comes amid widespread rumors about his interest in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and his speech capped a three-day event in which the future of the fossil fuel industry amid the aggressive national clean energy transition has been a prevailing theme.

And though Pompeo argued that some clean energy goals can coexist with fossil fuels, he dismissed environmentalist goals as "a near substitute for religion to many on the left" and singled out possible consequences to U.S. relations with Russia and China. "Outside of the challenges we face here inside of our country, the greatest threat to your children and grandchildren is the continued goal of hegemonic power of the Chinese Communist Party," he said.

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In at least one instance, Pompeo noted that North Dakota's oil industry played a key role in his overseas diplomacy. Citing a trip to meet with leadership in the former Soviet-bloc country of Belarus during a price war with Russia, Pompeo said that negotiations resulted in a North Dakota company delivering the first shipment of American crude oil into Belarus. North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said the company was United Energy, an oil and gas conglomerate headquartered in Bismarck.

Pompeo was appointed to the United States' top foreign policy post by President Donald Trump in 2018 after serving as director of the CIA and spending six years as a Kansas congressional representative. Before his political career, he was president of a Kansas oilfield services company. Political analysts have noted that Pompeo's recent appearances in the key election primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire may be an effort to begin his 2024 campaign groundwork early. The former secretary of state brushed off a question about his intentions Thursday, saying he's focused on helping his party win back Congress in next year's midterm election.

Pompeo's words on the energy transition struck a different chord from those of an earlier speaker, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who addressed the conference Thursday by video and appealed to the oil officials to be an ally in the national clean energy transition. She stressed the importance of a national transition to cleaner energy sources, but touted future job opportunities for fossil fuel workers in a host of climate focused fields, like sealing harmful methane leaks, ensuring safe pipeline operations, plugging and reclaiming abandoned oil wells, and in carbon capture and storage.

"(Carbon storage) requires the same labor skill-sets that's used for oil and gas exploration," she said. "And that means that today's petroleum engineers could be suited to become tomorrow's subsurface carbon managers."

Carbon capture is an expensive emerging technology that many North Dakota officials hope could make the state's core fossil fuel industries cleaner and more economic for the long-term. State leaders have also expressed hopes of bringing Granholm to North Dakota, in part to showcase the state's multiple carbon capture ventures, and Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement released Wednesday night that the energy secretary asked to begin arranging a visit to the state.

While broadcasting the Biden administration's ambitious climate goals — among them plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% before the end of the decade and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 — Granholm assured attendees at the oil conference America's place as a global supplier of fossil fuel energy "is going to remain important."

"I totally get that many in this industry are nervous about that. That kind of goal makes you uncomfortable and worried," she said. "I'm here to tell you, we will not have to do it alone. We want to be a partner."

Speaking to reporters before taking the stage, Pompeo endorsed the much discussed efforts by fossil fuel companies to reduce their carbon footprint. But he also emphasized that he opposes any climate actions that would hinder production in the country's energy sector.

"What we can't do, we cannot take actions that will fundamentally alter the capacity for America to continue to grow its economy. Those burdens will backfire," he said.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.