President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from the strategic reserve to help bring down energy costs, in coordination with other major energy-consuming nations, including China, India and the United Kingdom.
The government will begin to move barrels into the market in mid-to late-December. But the action is unlikely to immediately bring down gas prices significantly as families begin traveling for the holidays. Gasoline usually responds at a lag to changes in oil prices, and administration officials suggested this is one of several steps toward ultimately bringing down costs.
Oil prices had dropped in the days ahead of the announced withdrawals, a sign that investors were anticipating the moves that could bring a combined 70 million to 80 million barrels of oil onto global markets. But in Tuesday morning trading, prices shot up nearly 2% instead of falling.
The market was expecting the news, and traders may have been underwhelmed when they saw the details, said Claudio Galimberti, senior vice president for oil markets at Rystad Energy.
“The problem is that everybody knows that this measure is temporary,” Galimberti said. “So once it is stopped, then if demand continues to be above supply like it is right now, then you’re back to square one.”
Shortly after the U.S. announcement, India said it would release 5 million barrels from its strategic reserves. The British government confirmed it will release up to 1.5 million barrels from its stockpile. Japan and South Korea are also participating. U.S. officials say it’s the biggest coordinated release from global strategic reserves.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said it was “a sensible and measured step to support global markets” during the pandemic recovery. Blain added that British companies will be authorized but not compelled to participate in the release.
The actions by the U.S. and others also risk counter moves by Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia, and by Russia. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have made clear they intend to control supply to keep prices high for the time being.
As word spread in recent days of a coming joint release from U.S. and other countries’ reserves, there were warnings from OPEC interests that those countries may respond in turn, reneging on promises to increase supplies in coming months.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso was among Republicans who criticized Biden’s announcement. The No. 3 Senate Republican said the underlying issue is restrictions on domestic production by the Biden administration.
“Begging OPEC and Russia to increase production and now using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are desperate attempts to address a Biden-caused disaster,” Barrasso said. “They’re not substitutes for American energy production.”
Biden has scrambled to reshape much of his economic agenda around the issue of inflation, saying that his recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure package will reduce price pressures by making it more efficient and cheaper to transport goods.
Republican lawmakers have hammered the administration for inflation hitting a 31-year high in October. The consumer price index soared 6.2% from a year ago — the biggest 12-month jump since 1990.