President Biden said Wednesday he is tapping another 15 million barrels from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stabilize gasoline prices, sparking accusations of political gamesmanship with the stockpile before the midterms.
Mr. Biden said the barrels, which will be released sometime in December and completing a drawdown of 180 million barrels, will help to insulate the markets from shocks around the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Oil-producing OPEC nations cut production despite Mr. Biden‘s entreaties to leaders in Saudi Arabia, heaping pressure on the White House to dip into the reserve.
“We’re going to continually responsibly use that national asset,” Mr. Biden said.
The price of oil ticked up on Wednesday with Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, climbing $2.38 or 2.6% to $92.41 a barrel.
Critics accused Mr. Biden of using the petroleum reserve, which is at a four-decade low, as a tool to reduce prices and political pressures ahead of the midterm elections.
Voters consistently point to the high cost of food, gas and other items as a primary concern, crowding out issues like abortion access, which is more favorable terrain for Democratic candidates.
Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, called the move “as cynical as it is irresponsible.” The Republican National Committee said voters will fault the administration for high costs.
“Americans know that Biden has resorted to gimmicks because his anti-U.S. energy agenda has resulted in soaring gas prices. Democrats are to blame for the pain at the pump, the record high utility bills, and soaring energy costs,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said. “Voters know Republicans are ready to get our economy back on track and that starts with unleashing American energy.”
Mr. Biden winced at charges he was playing politics with the reserve, saying Republicans have been “asleep” and unhelpful in reducing prices over the past several months.
“It’s not politically motivated at all,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House.
Administration officials blamed the Russian invasion of Ukraine for upsetting the oil markets. They said Mr. Biden needed to take steps to help American consumers while Ukraine defends its territory.
Gas prices reached a nationwide average of over $5 before sliding downward. Decreases appear to be stalling out, though Mr. Biden pointed to incremental progress.
“Gas prices have fallen every day in the last week,” Mr. Biden said. “They’re not falling fast enough. Families are hurting.”
The current average sits at about $3.85 per gallon, which is slightly lower than on Tuesday or a week ago but up from the average of $3.67 a month ago, according to AAA.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when pressed, did not name a suitable price that would make drastic measures no longer necessary. She said the administration wants to “make sure that the supply out there meets the demand, and that is not what’s happening.”
It’s unclear how big of an impact the recent drawdown will produce, given robust American demand.
Only a small amount of crude oil is directly consumed in the U.S. since it is mostly refined into petroleum products. The U.S. consumed an average of 19.89 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Mr. Biden acknowledged the price burden on Americans but placed the blame elsewhere, namely on Russia and oil-producing nations that won’t pump more. He said the drawdowns from the U.S. reserve have been effective.
He also chafed at critics who say he is holding back American energy, saying the U.S. is on pace to pump more oil per day than when he took office.
Mr. Biden said he will restock the reserve once oil prices drop from current levels of around $83 per barrel to $70 per barrel. The pledge should give oil producers confidence they can sell their products at a good price, he said.
“We’re giving you more certainty so you can act now to increase oil production now,” Mr. Biden said.
The president also said oil companies are making solid profits — $70 billion in the second quarter of this year — and using the money to benefit shareholders instead of consumers.
He said the gas prices at the pump aren’t falling as fast as they should be, given the price of oil, and that consumers should be paying about 60 cents less per gallon based on his calculations.
“It’s not right,” he said. “Gas prices at the pump should be lower.”
Mr. Biden also called on Congress to speed up the permit-approval process for cleaner energy sources, including wind, solar and “clean hydrogen.”
“We need to get this moving quickly — now,” he said.