President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally announced the sale of an additional 15 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in December as he looks to lower gas prices ahead of the crucial midterm elections.
“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 in a speech from the White House. “And I’ve told my team to be prepared to look further – look for further releases in the months ahead if needed.”
The President also revealed the administration’s plan to purchase oil to refill the emergency reserve, which is now at its lowest level in nearly 40 years, when prices fall to $70 a barrel.
“Refilling the reserve at $70 a barrel is a good price for companies. And it’s a good price for the taxpayers. And it’s critical to our national security,” Biden said.
The President also called on Congress to pass permitting reform to speed up the permitting process for sustainable energy projects.
Wednesday’s announcement of the sale – which amounts to less oil than the US uses in a single day – comes less than three weeks before Election Day, marking the latest step in the White House’s unprecedented attempt to balance global oil markets. The action is expected to fulfill the administration’s commitment in March to release a historic 180 million barrels from the SPR over a six-month period to counter soaring energy prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That commitment, which has rolled out in regular sales over the last several months, combined with global economic concerns to help drive gas prices down for nearly three months straight. But a recent OPEC+ decision to cut oil production targets and sidelined refineries also created market pressures.
Biden on Wednesday asserted that the SPR release was not politically motivated.
“It’s motivated to make sure that I can continue to push on what I’ve been pushing on, and that is making sure there’s enough oil that’s being pumped by the companies so that we have the ability to be able to produce gas that we need here at home, oil that we need here at home, and at the same time, keep moving in the direction of providing for alternative energy,” he said.
Biden argued that although gas prices had fallen every day in the past week, “they’re not falling fast enough.”
“When the price of gas goes up, other expenses get cut,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been doing everything in my power to reduce gas prices since (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused these prices to spike.”
Earlier Wednesday, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser for energy security suggested the administration will release more “if necessary.” Any future release, he suggested, would be dependent on global markets and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Pressed by CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” as to what would lead to any additional releases, Hochstein said, “If necessary – look, the Russians have clearly stated that we can’t be sure what they’re going to do next and we have some measures that are coming into place in Europe over the next several months. So the President’s going to keep a careful eye and announcing today – that whatever we’re doing today could continue and see additional SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) releases, if necessary.”
He suggested a “combination of things” could lead to such a decision, including international actions that lead to a spike in gas prices, but declined to get into hypothetical scenarios.
Hochstein on Wednesday also highlighted Biden’s plans to “replenish” the SPR. He said the administration is asking the oil and gas industry to increase production and “start investing” but said there is still “a lot” of oil remaining in the reserves.
“We still have a lot there, we have over 400 million barrels, that’s a lot of barrels. We’re going to use them if we need to. But we want the industry to increase production right now so that their barrels – the private sector barrels can come into the market. That’s not necessarily the role of the SPR,” he said.
Hochstein said the current price of gas is “too high” and argued that the profit gap for oil companies is also “too high.”
“The President wants those prices to come down even further and faster. And he’s going to take whatever action necessary in order to make sure that consumers don’t have to pay the price for wars that are happening in Europe,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Wednesday.