Pelosi: Tap emergency oil reserve to lower prices

Thursday, July 10, 2008

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on President Bush to release oil from the government's emergency reserve to knock down gasoline prices she says "are helping push the economy toward recession."

Pelosi, D-Calif., in a letter to Bush noted that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve has been used three times before and each time the action has served to stabilize oil markets and lower gas prices.

Action is needed "to assist consumers and strengthen the economy," Pelosi said.

The threats to the economy and national security from high oil prices "are the kind of circumstances ... in which utilization of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is more than justified," Pelosi wrote in the letter sent late Tuesday.

Bush repeatedly has rejected calls to use oil from the government reserve, which is 97 percent full and currently holds about 702 million barrels of oil -- enough to replace imports for two months. It's stored in salt caverns along the Louisiana and Texas coast.

The Bush administration has maintained that the oil is to be used only in response to a disruption of oil supplies. While oil prices currently are high, at more than $137 a barrel on Wednesday, there has been no supply shortage.

"The purpose of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to provide the United States with oil in the event of a severe disruption of supply, not to manipulate prices," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Recently, Bush reluctantly agreed to halt shipments of about 70,000 barrels of oil a day into the emergency reserve after Congress directed him to do so.

"As we predicted, that action didn't stop increases in the price of gasoline, and we don't believe releasing oil from the reserve will prevent long-term price increases either," Stanzel said.

Oil has been released from the emergency stockpile in the past in response to threatened or actual supply interruptions.

About 17 million barrels of oil were made available in 1991 to calm global oil markets shortly before the Gulf War.

Bush turned to the reserves when hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted oil supplies in 2005. A total of 21 million barrels were made available to refineries "with great effectiveness to address emergency energy needs in the crisis," according to an Energy Department inspector general's report.

President Clinton in 2000 made available 30 million barrels of oil from the reserve to head off concerns about shortages in heating oil during the upcoming winter.

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