President Joe Biden took credit for knocking a few cents off of record-high oil prices after withdrawing millions of barrels from the nation’s emergency strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), but records show his Department of Energy actually timed the first drawdown of the emergency oil supply to coincide with an already forecasted decline in oil prices.
According to internal documents obtained by the Functional Government Initiative (FGI) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), administration officials acknowledged agency assessments that predicted a drop in oil prices ahead of the first SPR release in November 2021.
The White House announced the first withdrawal of 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile on Nov. 23, 2021, days before the Thanksgiving holiday as drivers faced sticker shock at the pump.
“Over the last 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented global economic shutdown,” read a White House press release. “As the world is re-opening from a near economic standstill, countries across the globe are grappling with the challenges that arise as consumer demand for goods outpaces supply.”
The decision came 11 months after the administration illegally suspended federal oil and gas leases, driving up oil prices to more than $80 per barrel. U.S. consumers go through 20 million barrels a day.
Three weeks prior to the presidential oil withdrawal, records show department officials discussed how oil prices were already headed for a downturn as the nation headed into the winter season.
According to an assessment from the department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), government analysts projected “Brent crude oil prices will average $81 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2021 and nearly $72 per barrel in 2022.”
“EIA expects crude oil prices will remain elevated in the first quarter of 2022, at $78 per barrel,” read the report in a heavily redacted document shared with The Federalist. “Beginning in the second quarter of 2022, EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices to start decreasing as global production growth begins to accelerate.”
The documents were released by the Energy Department following a lawsuit filed by the Functional Government Initiative to force the agency’s compliance with public transparency laws.
Days after department officials saw a slight dip in energy costs on the horizon, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm laughed at rising prices at the gas pump, joking she would bring them down if “I had the magic wand on this.”
“Oil is a global market,” Granholm said on Bloomberg News. “It is controlled by a cartel. That cartel is called OPEC, and they made a decision yesterday that they were not going to increase beyond what they were already planning.”
While oil prices were expected by the EIA to remain high, the slight decline in the forecast gave administration officials an insurance policy to claim their release from the emergency stockpile was to thank for lower energy costs. Gas prices barely dipped following the November release. Americans paid an average of $3.40 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline on the day of President Biden’s announcement. By January 2022, the national average was back to $3.40 per gallon.
President Biden began to make a habit of releasing oil from the petroleum reserves to maintain political capital through 2022, with the additional drawdown of 210 million barrels between March and November.
Authorized to maintain 714 million barrels of crude oil, the U.S. Department of Energy reported the stockpile held more than 695 million barrels in 2011. After 260 million barrels were withdrawn from the emergency stockpile in the absence of an actual emergency, the nation’s petroleum reserves are now at their lowest levels since 1983. According to the EIA’s latest assessment, just more than 371 million barrels are in reserve.