The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is an emergency fuel storage of petroleum maintained underground in Louisiana and Texas by the United States Department of Energy (DOE). It is the largest emergency supply in the world, with the capacity to hold up to 727 million barrels (115,600,000 m3). The United States started the petroleum reserve in 1975 after oil supplies were interrupted during the 1973-1974 oil embargo, to mitigate future supply disruptions.
The current inventory is displayed on the SPR's website. As of February 1, 2019 , the inventory was 649.1 million barrels (103,200,000 m3). This equates to about 35 days of oil at 2013 daily U.S. consumption levels of 18.49 million barrels per day (2,940,000 m3/d) or 67 days of oil at 2013 daily U.S. import levels of 9.859 million barrels per day (1,567,500 m3/d). However, the maximum total withdrawal capability from the SPR is only 4.4 million barrels per day (700,000 m3/d), so it would take over 150 days to use the entire inventory. At recent market prices ($69 a barrel as of December 2014), the SPR holds over $18.0 billion in sweet crude and approximately $25.5 billion in sour crude (assuming a $15/barrel discount for sulfur content). The total value of the crude in the SPR is approximately $43.5 billion. The price paid for the oil is $20.1 billion (an average of $28.42 per barrel).
Purchases of crude oil resumed in January 2009 using revenues available from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina emergency sale. The DOE purchased 10.7 million barrels (1,700,000 m3) at a cost of $553 million.
The reserve is stored at four sites on the Gulf of Mexico, each located near a major center of petrochemical refining and processing. Each site contains a number of artificial caverns created in salt domes below the surface.
Individual caverns within a site can be up to 1000 m below the surface, average dimensions are 60 m wide and 600 m deep, and capacity ranges from 6 to 37 million barrels (950,000 to 5,880,000 m3). Almost $4 billion was spent on the facilities. The decision to store in caverns was made in order to reduce costs; the Department of Energy claims it is roughly 10 times cheaper to store oil below surface with the added advantages of no leaks and a constant natural churn of the oil due to a temperature gradient in the caverns. The caverns were created by drilling down and then dissolving the salt with water.
Access to the reserve is determined by the conditions written into the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), primarily to counter a severe supply interruption. The maximum removal rate, by physical constraints, is 4.4 million barrels per day (700,000 m3/d). Oil could begin entering the marketplace 13 days after a presidential order. The Department of Energy says it has about 59 days of import protection in the SPR. This, combined with private sector inventory protection, is estimated to equal 115 days of imports.
The SPR was created following the 1973 energy crisis. The EPCA of December 22, 1975, made it policy for the United States to establish a reserve up to 1 billion barrels (159 million m³) of petroleum. A number of existing storage sites were acquired in 1977. Construction of the first surface facilities began in June 1977. On July 21, 1977, the first oil--approximately 412,000 barrels (65,500 m3) of Saudi Arabian light crude--was delivered to the SPR. Fill was suspended in Fiscal Year 1995 to devote budget resources to refurbishing the SPR equipment and extending the life of the complex. The current SPR sites are expected to be usable until around 2025. Fill was resumed in 1999.
On November 13, 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush announced that the SPR would be filled, saying, "The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is an important element of our Nation's energy security. To maximize long-term protection against oil supply disruptions, I am directing the Secretary of Energy to fill the SPR up to its 700 million barrels (110,000,000 m3) capacity." The highest prior level was reached in 1994 with 592 million barrels (94,100,000 m3). At the time of President Bush's directive, the SPR contained about 545 million barrels (86,600,000 m3). Since the directive in 2001, the capacity of the SPR increased by 27 million barrels (4,300,000 m3) due to natural enlargement of the salt caverns in which the reserves are stored. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 has since directed the Secretary of Energy to fill the SPR to the full 1 billion barrels (160,000,000 m3) authorized capacity, a process which will require a physical expansion of the Reserve's facilities.
On August 17, 2005, the SPR reached its goal of 700 million barrels (110,000,000 m3), or about 96% of its now-increased 727 million barrels (115,600,000 m3) capacity. Approximately 60% of the crude oil in the reserve is the less desirable sour (high sulfur content) variety. The oil delivered to the reserve is "royalty-in-kind" oil--royalties owed to the U.S. government by operators who acquire leases on the federally owned Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. These royalties were previously collected as cash, but in 1998 the government began testing the effectiveness of collecting royalties "in kind"--or in other words, acquiring the crude oil itself. This mechanism was adopted when refilling the SPR began, and once filling is completed, revenues from the sale of future royalties will be paid into the federal treasury.
On January 23, 2007, President Bush suggested in his State of the Union speech that Congress should approve expansion of the current reserve capacity to twice its current level.
On May 16, 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said it would halt all deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve sometime in July. This announcement came days after Congress voted to direct the Bush administration to do the same.
On January 2, 2009, after a sharp decline in fuel prices, DOE said that it would begin buying approximately 12,000,000 barrels (1,900,000 m3) of crude oil to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, replenishing supplies that were sold after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The purchase would be funded by the roughly $600 million received from those emergency sales.
On September 9, 2011, a Notice of Cancellation was published in the Federal Register after Congress rescinded funding for the expansion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reversing the SPR expansion initiative previously directed under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
On October 20, 2014, a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended reducing the size of the Reserve. According to the report, the amount of oil held in reserve exceeds the amount required to be kept on hand given the need for imported crude oil had decreased in recent years. The report said DOE agreed with the GAO recommendation.
According to the 1975 Sinai Interim Agreement signed by the United States and Israel, as a precondition for Israel's return of the Sinai Peninsula and its associated oil reserves to Egypt, in an emergency the United States was obligated to make oil available for sale to Israel for up to five years. Israel has never used the agreement, however. The agreement was updated in 1979, 1994, 2004, and, most recently, in 2015 for a ten-year period.
As a member of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United States must stock an amount of petroleum equivalent to at least 90 days of U.S. imports. The SPR contained an equivalent to 141 days of imports as of September 2016. The United States is also obligated to contribute 43.9% of petroleum in any IEA-coordinated release.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is primarily a crude petroleum reserve, not a stockpile of refined petroleum fuels such as gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Although the United States maintains some extra supply of refined petroleum fuels, e.g., the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve and Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve under the aegis of the Department of Energy (DOE), the government does not maintain gasoline reserves on anything like the scale of the SPR. The SPR is intended to give the United States protection from disruptions in oil supplies. In the event of a major disruption to refinery operations, the United States would have to call on members of the International Energy Agency that stockpile refined products, and use refining capacities outside of the continental United States for relief.
There have been suggestions that the DOE should increase its supplies and stockpile both gasoline and jet fuel. Some countries and zones have a strategic reserve of both petroleum and petroleum products. In some cases, this includes a strategic reserve of jet fuel.
Former Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said that the Department would consider new facilities for refined products as part of an expansion of 1 to 1.5 billion barrels (160,000,000 to 240,000,000 m3).
Note: Loans are made on a case-by-case basis to alleviate supply disruptions. Once conditions return to normal, the loan is returned to the SPR with additional oil as interest.