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US to Lead Phased Release of SPR Oil

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The US said on Tuesday it will release up to 50 million barrels of oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) as part of a coordinated effort with several large consumer nations, including China and India.

Other countries participating in the release include Japan, South Korea and the UK, the White House said.

The coordinated effort is intended to put downward pressure on oil prices.

But the market seemed underwhelmed by the initiative, with Brent crude futures rising by more than $2 per barrel and trading above $80 again.

The amount of crude oil that is actually released will depend on how much demand there is for it.

Deliveries from US storage facilities would start in mid-December and continue through the end of April — possibly spreading them out over several months and diluting their impact.

Opec-plus delegates said the move was unlikely to prompt the alliance to change its current policy of steady monthly production increases of 400,000 barrels per day.

The alliance's next ministerial meeting will be held on Dec. 2.

Opec-plus officials appear confident that the coordinate release of SPR oil will turn out to be a "mistake."

"For now, I don't think this will change Opec-plus' plans. But we will be watching what happens to the price," said one Opec-plus delegate.

A second delegate said the alliance had taken the correct decision at its last meeting — to keep increasing production at a monthly pace of 400,000 b/d — and would "continue to base its decisions on fundamentals."

December Deadlines

The White House said the US "will make available" 50 million barrels of SPR crude to lower fuel prices for US consumers and "address the mismatch" between the supply of oil and demand.

Out of that potential total, up to 32 million barrels would take the form of an exchange, with bidders obligated to return the oil to the SPR over the next few years.

The remaining 18 million barrels would represent an acceleration of sales of SPR crude that Congress has previously authorized.

Bids must be submitted by Dec. 6 and contracts will be awarded by Dec. 14.

India said it would release 5 million barrels of crude from its own SPR while Japan was expected to announce the release of a similar volume on Wednesday.

UK participation would depend on voluntary action by private companies to release up to 1.5 million barrels of oil, a government spokesperson told Reuters.

Washington had reached out to major oil importing countries in recent weeks to ask them to consider selling crude from their strategic stockpiles.

Political Factors at Play

The move reflects the Biden administration's concerns that high oil prices are a key driver of inflation which has surged to its highest rate in more than 30 years in the US.

Biden and his Democratic Party face tough midterm elections in 2022 and the president's approval rating among US voters has sagged in recent months.

The Biden administration also plans to look into "how consolidation in the oil and gas sector may be resulting in anti-competitive practices that keep American consumers from benefiting when oil prices fall."

Washington also reached out to key Opec-plus producers in recent months, but the alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia has been reluctant to raise its output at a faster pace because demand usually slackens in the first quarter of a new year.

The alliance also wants to avoid undermining the work it has done over the last year and a half to support a recovery in oil prices, which collapsed when demand was hit hard by the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Energy Intelligence understands that US officials had informed at least some Opec-plus ministers that the SPR release was coming and told them that the initiative should not be seen as a hostile move against the alliance.

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