Emergency Oil Reserve Will Be Replenished—Just Slowly

Filling the reserves requires a balancing act.

July 14, 2023

The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil, with a storage capacity of 714 million barrels in four underground salt caverns along the Gulf Coast, according to energy.gov. Around the start of the pandemic, there were about 635 billion barrels in the reserve; however, reserves have shrunk to around 363 billion barrels. The country has not seen levels this low since the ’80s, when the stockpile was still growing, and depletions of the scale of the past few years are a first in its 46-year history.

United States Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has committed to replenishing the SPR. “The bottom line is we are going to replenish,” she told CNN. While she indicated that restocking is a priority, the goal of replenishing 180 million barrels will take several years through new purchases and cancelled future sales. Lawmakers recently agreed to cancel the planned sale of 140 million barrels through fiscal 2027.

The pacing is vital because refilling too slowly could leave Americans exposed to higher prices in the event of a natural disaster or war, but restocking too quickly could also hike prices simply due to demand. The recent depletion of the SPR is due to rapid sales to offset gas prices while the war in Ukraine wages on in addition to Congressionally-mandated sales for budget-related reasons.

According to CNN, “officials have said they will only look to purchase oil when prices are at or below about $67 to $72 a barrel.”

“We still have the largest strategic petroleum reserve in the world,” Granholm said. “We have, by far, enough to be able to deal with any emergencies over the next couple of years.”