US to free up oil reserves as Biden tackles high gas prices

WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday a plan to sell 15 million barrels of crude oil from the nation’s emergency supply and begin replenishing the reserve as he tries to curb high gasoline prices ahead of November’s midterm elections. 8.

The move came two weeks after the Saudi-led OPEC+ organization rankled Biden by joining Russia in agreeing to a production cut, raising fears of another rise in US pump prices.

“With my announcement today, we are going to continue to stabilize markets and lower prices at a time when the actions of other countries have caused such volatility,” Biden said at a White House event.

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Biden blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for higher crude oil and gasoline prices, at a time when prices had fallen 30% from their peak earlier this year.

But prices “are not falling fast enough,” he said.

“Families are hurting,” and gas prices are squeezing their budgets, he added.

The plan aims to add enough supply to prevent oil price spikes that could hurt consumers and businesses, while assuring the nation’s drillers that the government will step into the buying market if prices fall too low.

Biden, who faced criticism from Republicans who charge that he is tapping the reserve for political reasons and not because it is an emergency, also said he would replenish the SPR reserve in the coming years.

The White House said his goal would be to buy crude oil prices at or below $67-$72 a barrel.

Biden’s efforts to use federal powers to balance the U.S. oil market underscore how much the war in Ukraine, rampant inflation and OPEC production cuts have changed the plans of a president who took office promising to undo the oil industry and move the country quickly. to a fossil-free future.

US presidents have little control over petroleum prices, but the country’s massive petrol consumption – the highest in the world – means that high prices at the pump can be political poison. Retail gasoline prices have fallen from a peak in June, but remain above historical averages.

U.S. President Joe Biden calls for a federal gas tax holiday as he speaks about gas prices during remarks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 22, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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Earlier this year, Biden decided to sell 180 million barrels out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to combat a potential supply crisis caused by sanctions against oil-rich Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February.

While the original plan was to end those sales in November, purchases by companies including Marathon Petroleum Corp ( MPC.N ), Exxon Mobil Corp ( XOM.N ) and Valero Energy Corp ( VLO.N ) were slower than expected during the run of summer and around 15 million barrels are still unsold.

They will be put out for bids for delivery in December, a senior administration official said, and additional oil may also be made available if required.

“The president is going to keep a close eye on announcing today that whatever we do today could go ahead and see additional SPR releases — if necessary,” senior U.S. energy adviser Amos Hochstein said Wednesday.


Biden plans to replenish the SPR in the coming years, but only at prices at or below a range of $67 to $72 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, the top administration said.

“There is no imminent threat of an oil collapse,” Hochstein said on CNBC later.

Biden’s hope is to send a signal to both consumers and producers.

“He’s urging the private sector in the United States to do two things. One is to take this signal and increase production, increase investment, and No. 2 is to make sure that when they take those profits, they take advantage of it. from these markets, that they continue to give the consumer the right price,” the official said.

In recent weeks, the oil industry has grown increasingly concerned that the administration could take the drastic step of banning or limiting exports of gasoline or diesel to help rebuild falling U.S. inventories. They have urged the administration to take the option off the table, a move officials are unwilling to make.

“We’re keeping all tools on the table, you know, anything that could potentially help ensure stable domestic supply,” the official said.

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Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland, additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Heather Timmons, Lisa Shumaker and Marguerita Choy

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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