The Biden administration is painting its solicitations to replenish the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) when prices reach $79 per barrel as a “good deal for taxpayers” after numerous Democrats bristled at the Trump administration’s proposal to top it off when prices were about three times lower.
The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Monday that it is seeking to buy up to 3 million barrels for oil delivery in 2024 to help replenish the SPR, which the administration drew down in 2021 and 2022 ahead of the midterm elections as fuel prices jumped. The DOE touted the solicitation as a sign the administration is working to secure “a good deal for taxpayers,” just a few years after numerous Senate Democrats slammed the Trump administration for looking to top off the key oil reserve when prices were hovering at about $25 per barrel in March 2020.
“Today’s announcement advances the President’s commitment to safeguard and replenish this critical energy security asset, following his historic release from the SPR to address the significant global supply disruption caused by Putin’s war on Ukraine and help keep the domestic market well supplied, which ultimately helps bring down prices for American consumers and businesses,” the solicitation announcement states. “This is the second solicitation for January 2024 delivery as DOE aims to purchase oil when it can purchase at a good deal for taxpayers: a price of $79 dollars per barrel or below, far less than the average of about $95 per barrel DOE received for 2022 emergency SPR sales.”
President Joe Biden elected to release 180 million barrels of oil from the SPR in late 2021 and 2022 as spiking fuel prices created a political headache for Biden and fellow Democrats ahead of that year’s midterm elections. The SPR has about 17 days of emergency supply left, and the potential expansion of the Israel-Hamas war has brought Biden’s SPR decisions back into focus as some energy experts say that his releases leave the U.S. more vulnerable in a period of heightened global geopolitical risk.
Senate Democrats worked to exclude $3 billion from a COVID-19 relief package in 2020 that the Trump administration proposed to fund an SPR replenishment when prices were at around $25 per barrel, funding which a spokesperson for then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described as a “bailout for Big Oil,” according to Roll Call.
The SPR is at its lowest levels since 1983, and the DOE opted against a refill in August, citing unfavorable market conditions when prices were well above $80 per barrel. In July, numerous energy experts cautioned that it could take “decades” to refill the SPR after Biden’s releases.
Bids for the solicited purchase will come due on Nov. 20, and the DOE will continue announcing monthly solicitations for available capacity through at least May 2024, according to Monday’s solicitation announcement.
The DOE and the White House did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
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