President Obama Releases Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Why?

Last week, President Obama ordered the release of 30 million barrels of crude oil from America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in concert with a broader International Energy Agency (IEA) effort to release 60 million barrels. This action was only the third time a President has ordered a release in American history. The first release was during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, and the second followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Therefore, the country is not facing a major threat or natural disaster, nor are oil prices increasing substantially. They have only increased 2.3% since the beginning of the year.

So why did the President decide to release oil from the SPR now?

There are three potential reasons:

1. It Was Political

A cynical explanation would be that the President released the reserves purely for political reasons. By adding more oil to the market, prices will likely decline for American consumers as they enter peak summer driving season. In turn, consumers will have more discretionary income to spend on items other than fuel. The net effect of the release would be to boost the American economy.

Nothing is wrong with finding ways to boost the economy. However, releasing oil from the SPR solely to juice economic activity is bad policy. The government should only open the SPR if it expects there to be a massive oil supply shock in the near future.

2. President Obama Wanted to Help America’s European Allies

Another rationale for the release is that the world needed to make up for the loss of ~2 million barrels per day from unrest in Libya and Yemen. The majority of these countries’ exports end up in Europe, so any American release would likely better cushion Europe from higher Brent crude prices than it would cushion the United States from higher WTI prices.

As such, a release for this reason alone, would be insufficient to justify an emergency release from the SPR.

3. Another Shoe Is about to Drop in Saudi Arabia

The third explanation is the most likely and worrisome.

Earlier this year, the Saudis pledged to boost their production by 1.5 millions barrels per day. In the past, the Saudis have reliably met their production targets.

That said, the IEA’s release of 60 million barrels might indicate that the Americans and Europeans are worried that Saudi Arabia might not be able to meet its production targets. If this is the case, the era of peak oil is upon us.

In the end, I think all three reasons influenced the President’s decision. However, I believe concern over Saudi Arabia’s continued ability to extract oil cheaply from the ground is likely what dominated it. If this is the case, the world is likely closer to peak oil than many would concede.

Be afraid. Be very afraid…

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Business, Central Asia, Clean Energy, Clean Tech, Defense, Energy Security, Finance and Economics, International Security, Middle East, Peak Oil, Policy, Politics, Predictions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to President Obama Releases Oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Why?

  1. Nobody says:


    *** With reserves of 260 billion barrels, Saudi Arabia would remain the world’s No. 1 oil country – though not, perhaps, for long. Howard Jonas, CEO of U.S.-based IDT Corp., the company that owns the Shfela Basin concession, says there is much more oil under Israel than under Saudi Arabia: Perhaps, he says, twice as much.

    Source ***

  2. Nobody says:

    Sorry for messing the link. Remove it. Here is another try

    Here is a link on Canada oil sands. This is basically what the energy union we discussed is meant to prevent. Basically instead of exporting elsewhere, you want them to start replacing other US petroleum imports

  3. Charles McCormack says:

    I see another potential reason: punch out the speculators. The immediate effect of the announcement was a $4/barrel price drop. Yes, Obama does desire gas prices to go down both to help his re-election and to bolster consumer confidence.But, as some analysts have pointed out, there’s about a 20% premium in the price of oil due to financial speculation, and what the release of oil reserves did (note it was coordinated with Europe) was to create uncertainty for these speculators, hence the immediate price drop. I’m guessing that alot of hedge fund managers and bankers skipped lunch that day and went straight to their local bar. Yay!!!

    • I don’t think the coordinated release had anything to do with retaliating against speculators. The price dropped because there was simply more supply.

      I am going to give Obama credit on this one. I think the IEA expects tighter supplies in the back half of the year and is preparing for it now. This is only something one does when they think the sh*t is about to hit the fan.

  4. pino says:

    If this is the case, the era of peak oil is upon us.

    What is your definition of peak oil?

  5. Scott Erb says:

    89 million barrels of oil per day? Haven’t we been stuck at around 84 million for years? I don’t know the data from 2009 and 2010, but 2005-08 appeared unable to hit the 85 million per day mark, even when prices were going way up and demand was high. I wonder if the peak might not be behind us? But you’re the expert — if you see it getting to 89 million barrels per day, I’ll believe you (and hope you’re right). Do you know off the top of your head what global production was in 2010?

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