In the wake of rising oil prices caused by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, President Biden has decided to tap into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in an effort to ease the burden on American consumers. The Department of Energy announced today that they will release 50 million barrels of oil from the SPR over the coming months, the largest release from the reserve in four decades.
The decision comes after weeks of consultations with other major energy-consuming nations, including China, India, and Japan, to address the global shortage of oil as economies around the world begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the 50 million barrels being released, an additional 18 million barrels will be sold as part of a previously authorized sale by Congress. The release of the oil is expected to help lower prices and bridge the gap between current high prices and the expectation of lower prices in the future.
While the move is meant to provide relief to American consumers and businesses, it also highlights concerns about the depletion of the SPR. Since taking office, President Biden has ordered the release of about 260 million barrels of oil from the reserve, leaving it at its lowest level in four decades. This has raised concerns among Republican lawmakers and energy experts who warn that the lack of a substantial emergency oil supply leaves the U.S. vulnerable to short-term supply shocks.
Critics of the decision argue that the administration’s use of the SPR to combat high fuel prices was a short-sighted solution, with the added danger of making the U.S. more vulnerable to emergencies. “There are a lot of reasons why the Biden administration should not have used the SPR to try to bring down prices — one of which is that the SPR then isn’t available if something serious happens. We’re facing that right now,” said Ben Lieberman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Lieberman also criticized the administration’s hostility towards domestic oil production, saying it adds to the risk by limiting the nation’s ability to increase oil production if needed.
Republican lawmakers have been voicing concerns about the SPR’s dwindling reserves for some time. Earlier this year, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member John Barrasso requested a Government Accountability Office investigation into the administration’s use of the SPR. In their letter, they state that “DOE’s mismanagement of the SPR has undermined America’s energy security, [making] the nation more vulnerable to energy supply disruptions, and increasing the ability for OPEC and Russia to use energy as a geopolitical weapon.”
The Administration’s decision to tap into the SPR has renewed calls for a review of the nation’s energy policies and calls for a more comprehensive and strategic approach to energy security. The SPR holds a total capacity of 714 million barrels and was established in 1975 as a response to the oil crisis. The current release marks the most significant tap into the reserve since 2011 when then-President Obama released oil from the SPR amid the Libyan civil war. While the ongoing conflict in the Middle East highlights the need for a robust emergency oil supply, it also brings attention to the administration’s energy policies and the need for a more comprehensive strategy to ensure long-term energy security for the nation.