Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee said on Monday that he will propose a one year pause in the purchase of oil for the Strategic Oil Reserve.  “Taking oil out of the supply stream at a time when oil prices and gasoline prices are at record highs makes no sense to me at all,” Dorgan said. The senator pointed out that when the government purchases oil, it takes it out of the market, which decreases supply and increases prices. President Bush has has adopted a strategy of increased the Reserve by 50% by purchasing oil from the oil companies and storing for later emergency use.

“The reserve is now nearly 97 percent full,” Dorgan said. “I think we should take a one year pause before we start on the new goal of expanding the reserve. Expanding the reserve now means the government will be removing oil from the marketplace, decreasing supply, and putting upward pressure on gasoline prices at a time when gasoline prices are already at near record levels. A one year pause means that supplies will not be artificially reduced by the government, and that the government would not be adding to upward pressure on gasoline prices when they are already very high.”

The Strategic Energy Reserve currently holds 689 million barrels of oil, with a capacity of 727 million barrels. The most recent energy bill upped capacity to one billion barrels, and President Bush has proposed increasing the capacity of the Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels. This sounds like a lot of oil until you realize that the U.S. consumes 20.8 million barrels per day. Only twice have any of the SPR reserves been released and sold on the open market. The first time was in 1991, and the second time was in August 2005 after Hurricane Katrina shut down 95% of U.S. crude oil. Then President Bush released a token 30 million barrels. President Bush put a similar halt on stocking the SPR in April 2006 as an attempt to alleviate high gas prices.

I like Dorgan’s idea. The SPR doesn’t contain enough supply to get the nation through a serious long term crisis, and it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to be paying to dollar to purchase oil that may never be used anyway. The critical thing to realize about the SPR is that the oil is unrefined. One of the biggest problems in the American energy situation is that we don’t have enough refineries to refine the oil we currently purchase. The question here is, why is the government spending our tax dollars to take supply from an already tight market?

There is no benefit to the federal government or the American consumer. Doesn’t this seem like a nice little gift of our tax dollars to the oil industry? We have more than enough in the SPR to cover a short term emergency, so I think we should take those federal dollars we are spending on oil that we may never use and invest them in the development of alternative energy sources. A bigger SPR isn’t the long term answer, but the cutting consumption of non renewable energy resources is.

Dorgan press release

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 6:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at
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