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Strategic Petroleum Reserve

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Strategic Petroleum Reserve

U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve Storage Sites

Map: U.S. Department of Energy
Strategic oil reserves are emergency stockpiles of oil established by member countries of the International Energy Administration. Each country keeps 90 days worth of imports on hand. This protects against supply disruptions, either from embargoes by the oil-exporting countries or damaged from hurricanes and other natural disasters.

There were 4.1 billion barrels held in global strategic reserves as of October 2011. Of this, 1.5 billion were held by governments, with the remainder controlled by industry. Strategic reserves are not counted in a country's proven oil reserves, which must be available for production. (Source: Reuters, Strategic Oil Reserves)

U.S. Reserves:

The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the world's largest. It is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy to keep the country running in a crisis. It only takes 13 days for the oil to enter the U.S. market from the time the President first gives the order.

The oil is stored in four underground salt caverns on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The storage caverns can hold 727 million barrels. It reached that total fill level for the first time in December 2009. The federally-owned reserves can replace about three months worth of imports, should that ever become necessary. It can draw down 4.4 million barrels per day. To find out how much oil is currently being stored, see SPR Inventory.

The Federal government owns all of the oil held. Fortunately, the government only paid $29.76 per barrel (on average). The facility only cost $22 billion. Of that, $5 billion was a fixed cost to pay for the facility, and $17 billion paid for the oil.

Release History:

Every time gas prices approach $4 a gallon, there are calls to release oil from the SPR. However, there are strict guidelines that control when the oil can be released. These are defined in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA).

  1. The President can order a full drawdown if there is a long-term energy shortage that threatens national security or the economy.
  2. The President may order a limited drawdown of less than 30 million barrels if there is a significant oil shortage.
  3. The Secretary of Energy can carry out test drawdowns of less than 5 million barrels. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Strategic Petroleum Reserves)
In addition, limited releases can occur as part of an exchange with a private company to avert a crisis, and if the SPR receives more oil than it lent out. Here's a summary of when the oil has been released.

2012 - One million barrels was lent to Marathon Petroleum Company to offset damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaac.

2011 - President Obama directed a release on June 23, 2011 to offset the loss of production due to the Libyan crisis. The U.S. released 30 million barrels in coordination with 60 million barrels released from other members of the International Energy Agency.

2008 - Prior to Hurricane Gustav coming ashore on September 1, 2008, the SPR had reached 707.21 million barrels, the highest level ever held up until that date. A series of emergency exchanges conducted after Hurricane Gustav, followed shortly thereafter by Hurricane Ike, reduced the level by 5.4 million barrels until 2009, when it was repaid.

2006 - The SPR loaned 750,000 barrels to local refineries when the Calcasieu Ship Channnel was closed from an oil spill, and 767,000 barrels when the Sabine Neches channel was closed due to a barge accident. Both loans were repaid later that year.

2005 - President George W. Bush ordered a drawdown to replace oil production lost as a result of Hurricane Katrina during the fall of 2005. That's because gas prices had skyrocketed to $5 gallon. Oil refineries and transportation had been damaged by the Hurricane. The SPR helped keep gas prices at an affordable level until this infrastructure was repaired. The SPR released 20.8 million barrels. However, oil had been released as an exchange prior to the President's orders.

2004 - Hurricane Ivan required a 5.4 million barrel loan. By 2005, 5.6 million barrels had been repaid.

2000 - The SPR loaned 500,000 barrels to refiners when the Calcasieu ship channel was blocked. Later that year, President Clinton ordered a 2 million barrel home heating oil reserve. The SPR exchanged its crude oil with private firms for the heating oil needed.

2002 - Hurricane Lili required an exchange of 98,000 barrels.

1998 - Eleven million barrels were exchanged for 8.5 million barrels of higher quality oil.

1997 - Congress directed that $220 million worth of oil be sold to balance the Federal budget.

1996 - An additional $227 million in oil was sold to balance the budget. Oil was also sold to pay for decommissioning the Weeks Island storage site, which had fractured. One million barrels was exchanged when ARCO's pipeline became blocked.

1991 - President George H.W.Bush ordered a release to stabilize the global supply under Operation Desert Storm. For more details on SPR releases, see SPR Drawdown

Reserve Sites:

The four SPR sites are located along the Gulf Coast so the oil can easily be distributed to nearly half of the U.S. oil refineries either through interstate pipelines or via barges.

There are two in Texas: Bryan Mound holds 254 million barrels in 20 caverns, while Big Hill holds 170.1 million barrels in 14 caverns. The two in Louisiana are: West Hackberry, which holds 228.2 million barrels in 22 caverns and Bayou Choctaw, which holds 73.2 million barrels in 6 caverns. (Source: DOE, SPR Storage Sites) Article updated March 19, 2013

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