President Joe Biden tapped the nation’s emergency petroleum reserve once again last week after the Saudis refused to ramp up oil production as the economy copes with energy shortages.
“I have been doing everything in my power to reduce gas prices since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused these prices to spike and rattled international oil markets,” Biden said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in eastern Europe.
The president unleashed an additional 15 million barrels from the strategic petroleum reserve after 180 million barrels were sold off at a pace of 1 million per day from April through mid-October. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. uses about 20 million barrels of oil per day.
Biden’s claim to be doing “everything” in his power to reduce gas prices runs contrary to the White House’s energy policy since day one of his administration. The president immediately closed off public lands from new oil and gas leases for 18 months upon his inauguration, freezing investment in the capital- and labor-intensive industry while a cascade of taxes and regulations from the Department of the Interior suppressed production even further. Biden also blocked plans for a major oil refinery in the Virgin Islands, keeping U.S. refining capacity on a downward trajectory after decades of decline.
Biden has repeatedly turned to the oil reserve throughout his first two years in office whenever gas prices approach new records, antagonizing voters who are already stressed by four-decade-high inflation. Last November, the president tapped the reserve for 50 million barrels of oil ahead of Thanksgiving. Months later, Biden looked to the reserve again for 30 million barrels at the onset of Russia’s war with Ukraine. The White House followed up that release with the unprecedented 180 million barrels drawn out to coincide with the midterms season. The president’s decision now to tap another 15 million barrels just before Election Day signals he’s doing everything in his power to avoid unleashing domestic power production, contrary to his claims at the White House last week.
By the end of the year, Biden will have purged 275 million barrels of oil from the reserve, which has an authorized capacity of 714 million. According to the Department of Energy, the reserve now holds less than 400 million barrels of petroleum, marking its lowest level since 1984. The emergency petroleum reserve, established in the 1970s to prepare the U.S. for a sudden and severe disruption in supply such as a hurricane hampering gulf coast refineries, has been transformed into the president’s personal oil bank to cash in on for political capital.
As to how effective the president’s releases have been at suppressing gas prices, consumers faced record pain at the pump this summer when the nationwide average gallon of regular unleaded gasoline eclipsed $5. In other words, gas prices continued to reach new peaks despite millions of barrels of oil flowing onto the market.
“All it’s really doing is distorting the market and covering up the president seeking to limit and curtail the domestic production of oil in the United States,” Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, told The Federalist. “He is responding to the fact that he looks weak because he failed numerous times to work cooperatively with OPEC, Saudi Arabia in particular.”
At the beginning of the month, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced deep production cuts of 2 million barrels per day beginning in November.
Pyle prescribed a legislative fix to the issue as the administration empties the petroleum reserve to save face as the midterms draw near.
“Congress needs to step in and put binders on the administration and make it very specific about what types of uses the releases are for,” Pyle said.
House Republicans have repeatedly sought to intervene. In June, Democrats blocked for the seventh time Republicans’ “American Energy Independence from Russia Act,” which would have placed restrictions on White House use of the emergency petroleum reserve. The legislation would require the president to submit an energy security plan within a month of tapping the emergency stockpile and require the energy secretary to develop plans for replenishment.
“While House Democrats have repeatedly blocked Republicans’ attempts to address our nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Biden has continued to deplete it,” a senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill told The Federalist. “If Republicans win the majority, addressing the SPR will be a part of our comprehensive focus on increasing American energy production and security.”
Congressional Republicans tried to restock the oil reserve in the early months of 2020 when the industry was on the brink of collapse from Covid-19 lockdowns. At the time, oil prices had plummeted, and it could be purchased in bulk at a bargain. Democrats, however, obstructed the effort, and now the Biden administration is forced to deal with replenishing millions more barrels at a far higher price. When the Trump administration looked to refill the reserve, oil was trading at less than $24 per barrel. Today, Biden is facing prices between $67 and $72 per barrel, about three times as much as oil cost just two years ago.