- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Amid concerns that rising gas prices could derail the economic recovery, Democrats are calling on President Obama to tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“We need to consider moving toward the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put the oil we have … into the economy, to try to temper this increase in gas prices,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, during an appearance on CNN.

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine and Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico are also among a growing chorus of Democrats who have asked the president to open the nation’s 727-million-barrel emergency reserve — something the White House has confirmed it is considering.

Mr. Durbin’s comments came two days after the president said the United States is “prepared to tap the significant stockpile of oil that we have.”

In a press conference Friday, Mr. Obama said that with gas prices averaging more than $3.50 a gallon — up almost 25 percent since February — Americans “feel this pretty acutely.”

“We’re going to do what we need to do … to make sure that oil supplies remain stable and that economic growth is going to continue,” the president said.

Mr. Obama did not specify price or supply levels that would trigger the use of the reserves, which are designed to serve as an emergency buffer against production disruptions — which most analysts agree is not the case with the current run-up in prices.

“If we see significant disruptions or shifts in the market … then we’ll take that step,” the president said.

He said the supply is “teed up” and would take days, not weeks, to affect the market.

The comments Friday appeared aimed at tamping down the volatility of global prices in the wake of unprecedented protests in recent weeks in the oil-producing Middle East.

But Republicans are skeptical.

House Speaker John A. Boehner said the administration helped created the run-up in the oil market by blocking “American energy production that would lower costs and create new jobs.”

Republican lawmakers said more domestic production was a better solution than tapping the nation’s emergency reserves.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California both blamed the Obama administration for a drop in domestic production in the past two years.

“The problem is not supply,” Mr. Kyl said on CNN. “By the way, gas prices have doubled under Obama. And one of the reasons is he has not issued drilling permits in the Gulf [of Mexico].”

“We will lose 13 percent of production this year,” he said. “We can get American energy on line if we simply grant the permits.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” put the blame for rising prices squarely on the shoulders of the president.

“This administration has been shutting down wells,” he said. “It has been a conscious effort to make it difficult to drill in this country, both on shore and offshore, by the bureaucrats who have been appointed by this administration.”

Mr. Obama has pushed back against his Republican critics.

His administration, he said, is assessing underdeveloped on-shore and offshore leases in an effort to encourage companies to maximize existing production.

Each of the past three presidents has manipulated the reserve to try to influence global prices.

President George H.W. Bush used the reserve after the invasion of Kuwait, and President Clinton tapped the supplies in 2000 to push down prices, which were then in the $30 per barrel range.

President George W. Bush used the reserve when the U.S. attacked Iraq in 2001 and again after Hurricane Katrina shut down Gulf Coast refineries.

Analysts say prices could drop anywhere from 5 cents to 25 cents a gallon — or more, depending on the size of any potential release from the stocks.

The reserve is held in crude, which would have to be processed through the American refinery system before it could effect the nation’s fuel supply.

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