US Announces Largest-Ever SPR Release

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The White House is organizing the largest-ever sale from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to cool oil prices.

The US government will make 1 million barrels per day of crude oil available for six months — for a total of 180 million bbl — to address the current global supply shortage.

The release will also address acute supply distortions from Russian oil exports, which according to shipping data are still flowing at pre-invasion levels but are largely going into storage or Asian markets instead of Europe, where demand for spot crude is high.

The announcement of the US SPR release comes on the same day that Opec-plus ministers decided to make only a small upward adjustment in the alliance's regular monthly production increases of 400,000 b/d.

However, that increase is now highly uncertain as Russia, a key ally of Saudi Arabia and a member of the Opec-plus alliance, is expected to lower its crude production amid falling domestic refinery runs and slumping exports.

Pushing Back

Oil from the US SPR should alleviate some of the pressure on supply until more oil is coming to market later in the year from US producers, as well as from Canada, Norway, Brazil, Guyana and Opec.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) sees US liquids output at nearly 1.6 million b/d higher now than a year earlier, with production of crude up 600,000 b/d, natural gas liquids up 700,000 b/d and biofuels up 270,000 b/d.

US officials say the SPR release plan is a “bridge” for when more supply becomes available. The White House is billing the plan as a response to “Putin’s price hike,” referring to the more than $1 per gallon rise in gasoline prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in late February.

To get even more US crude to market, the White House is also telling oil companies to use their leases on federal land or lose them.

More On the Way?

The 1 million b/d release from the US SPR would become available in May, and could rise to even more than that when other nations join the effort. US and its allies will discuss the oil market and a potential coordinated release on Apr. 1 as members of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

"I'm also waiting to see whether or not our allies, exactly how many barrels they release from their supplies," Biden said during a press conference on Thursday. "Now my guess is it could be as high somewhere between 30 million to 50 million barrels, and the higher the number the more likely the prices will come down."

Four caverns on the US Gulf Coast hold 568 million barrels of sweet and sour grades of SPR oil. Already-approved congressional sales of SPR oil would take storage down to around 300 million bbl by the end of the decade.

The US has already informed Opec members of its forthcoming SPR sale.

The US plans to replenish the volumes sold under its latest plan at a later point “when prices are lower” so they are ready for the next emergency, an official said.

Another Sale

The Biden administration announced a first sale of SPR oil in November and a second in March. The first totaled around 50 million bbl. Of that, 18 million bbl was an acceleration of already-approved sales and 32 million bbl came in the form of exchanges, meaning the volumes taken by a company would need to be returned to the SPR over the next three years.

The first sale was meant to address the early signs of a tightening market. Oil prices were rising ahead of winter, mostly in response to higher natural gas prices in Europe and Asia, which increased diesel and fuel oil demand and limited refinery runs.

The second sale of 30 million bbl was awarded on Mar. 16 and was intended as a first response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding wave of rising commodity prices. Those barrels will be in the market before the end of May, according to the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

Because of economics and geography, the US still imports some 6 million b/d of crude oil and 2 million b/d of refined products. In return, the US exports 3 million b/d of crude and 5 million b/d of refined products.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs said in a note that the US SPR release would "help the oil market rebalancing in 2022," but do little to address the structural oil shortage due to underinvestment.

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