The debate over the Biden administration’s decision to drain the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to its lowest level in decades is intensifying as the recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas sends oil prices soaring.
The Brent crude index, the global oil benchmark, and the U.S. WTI index both surged more than 4% on Monday, with analysts speculating that large amounts of global oil supplies may be held back due to escalating hostilities in the Middle East. While the Biden administration has presented the drain of the SPR from January 2021 to this low level as a measure to combat high fuel prices during the spring and summer of 2021, critics have argued that it has left the U.S. vulnerable to short-term energy shocks in the event of a supply interruption.
“There are a lot of reasons why the Biden administration should not have used the SPR to try to bring down prices — one of which is that the SPR then isn’t available if something serious happens,” Ben Lieberman, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital. “The point was for the nation to have an emergency oil supply.”
Lieberman’s position is echoed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who recently requested a Government Accountability Office investigation into the impacts of the administration’s SPR releases.
“DOE’s mismanagement of the SPR has undermined America’s energy security, leaving the nation more vulnerable to energy supply disruptions, and increasing the ability for OPEC and Russia to use energy as a geopolitical weapon,” the GOP leaders wrote.
The SPR, which currently contains 351.3 million barrels of oil, was established under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act to help the U.S. safeguard against energy supply disruptions. Before the current administration, the last time an SPR emergency release took place was during the Libyan civil war in 2011, and it was also used during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.
It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will respond to the criticism regarding its decision to reduce the SPR to an unprecedented low of less than half its capacity. However, with the White House now taking steps to re-fill the SPR, it is clear that the administration is conscious of the need to have an emergency oil- supply in the event of another disruption. Yet many are of the opinion that the SPR should not have been used to try and bring down fuel prices earlier this year, a move which continues to draw criticism in light of the recent conflict in the Middle East.