By Beatriz Pascual Macias
Washington, Oct 19 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced the sale of an additional 15 million barrels from the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a moved aimed at lowering prices at the pump for hard-hit American families.
In remarks at the White House, Biden said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was mainly to blame for the higher gasoline prices, adding that even though they have come down in recent months US consumers are still paying too much to fuel their vehicles.
“With my announcement today, we’re going to continue to stabilize markets and decrease the prices at a time when the actions of other countries have caused such volatility,” Biden said, referring to an Oct. 5 agreement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies (OPEC Plus) to reduce production by 2 million barrels a day but not specifically mentioning that energy cartel.
The president said gas prices in the US – which stood at a national average of $3.85 a gallon on Wednesday – have fallen every day over the past week but still are “not falling fast enough.”
The 15 million barrels – to be delivered in December from national stockpiles – will be released onto the market at a rate of 500,000 barrels per day, the White House said.
This latest sale from the SPR completes “the historic, 180-million-barrel drawdown the President announced in the spring, which has helped to stabilize crude oil markets and reduce prices at the pump,” the White House said in a fact sheet released on Tuesday.
Although the initially authorized limit has been reached, the president on Wednesday said, without providing specifics, that future releases could be made from national stockpiles if necessary.
The rapid drawdown of emergency oil stocks in recent months has caused the SPR to plunge to its lowest level since 1984, Biden acknowledged.
That reserve, which is located in underground salt caverns along the US Gulf Coast and currently contains around 400 million barrels of oil, was created in 1975 after an Arab oil embargo caused prices to soar.
The SPR has been used since then to boost oil supplies during wars or natural disasters.
Biden said a plan is in place to replenish those reserves once the price of oil has fallen to $70 a barrel. The current price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, the US benchmark, is $85.55.
Minutes after Biden’s remarks, several congressional Republicans said the oil releases were a politically motivated stunt to temporarily lower gas prices ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms and help Democrats’ prospects in those elections.
Asked by a reporter about the GOP’s criticism, the president said the latest drawdown falls within the scope of actions his administration has taken in recent months to bring down prices at the pump.
“The problem is these guys are asleep. I don’t know where they’ve been,” Biden shot back, adding that his policies are aimed at helping American families suffering from high inflation.
The president also accused large US oil companies of keeping their output low in a bid to boost their bottom lines.
He blasted those companies in particular for being more focused on returning value to investors through share buybacks than on increasing oil production.
“My message to the American energy companies is this: You should not be using your profits to buy back stock or for dividends,” Biden said. “Not now, not while a war is raging” in Ukraine. EFE