Half a century ago, war in the Middle East prompted the United States to build a massive stockpile of crude oil reserves, lessening US dependence on foreign resources. Last year, however, Biden dipped into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate the fuel price spike caused in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is at its lowest levels since the early 1980s, giving Republicans an angle to condemn the Biden administration, amidst fears that war between Israel and Palestine will spread throughout the Middle East, and disrupt oil shipments from the region.
Joe Biden taking criticism for using SPR
“That’s Joe Biden’s fault for trying to lower the price of gas before the election,” Representative Bruce Westerman, the House Natural Resources Chair, said.
Similarly, former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy commented that “our Strategic Petroleum Reserve is down to nothing.”
The Biden administration has defended it’s management of the SPR, noting that the US still has 351 million barrels held in reserve – the equivalent of about 56 days’ worth of US oil imports. “I am not worried about the reserve levels at all,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told a House committee. “It is the largest strategic reserve in the world.” Although, the current reserve is not as large as the Obama-era reserve – which held 727 million barrels. Still, the Biden administration hopes the current SPR stock, plus the 424 million barrels in the possession of US private companies, will be sufficient.
As POLITICO pointed out, “the U.S. is no longer the energy beggar it was in 1973, when the Yom Kippur War prompted an Arab oil embargo against the United States that sent prices spiraling and left Americans waiting in hours-long lines at gas pumps. Back then, U.S. oil production was dropping while its thirst for the fuel was riding – prompting Congress to pass a law in 1975 to create the reserve.”
Fifty years later, the US is in a drastically different position; today, the US is the world’s largest oil producer, exporting more oil products than it import.
Responding to future crises
In the past, some conservative groups have called for the elimination of the SPR, like eight years ago, when the Heritage Foundation argued that “Presidents have used the SPR as a political tool.” So, conservative criticism of Biden’s SPR depletion is somewhat hypocritical.
“Still, the reserves’ diminished volumes limit Biden’s options to respond to a future shock to the oil markets, including those that could result from a widening of the war in the Middle East,” POLITICO reported. “Oil analysts said even a fully stocked reserve wouldn’t protect the United States from the price shock that would erupt if a conflict blocked the 20 million barrels of oil that flow every day from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz. But having a full reserve would have given the White House a freer hand to enforce sanctions blocking Iran’s oil exports.”
Given the potential vulnerabilities, all eyes are on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has the potential to expand into a regional conflagration.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.