Plan to Sell Half of Oil Stockpile Sparks Debate.

Author:Barlas, Stephen

President Trump's proposal to sell nearly half the U.S. emergency oil stockpile is renewing debate about whether the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is still needed amid an ongoing oil production boom that has seen U.S. imports drop sharply in the past decade.

Trump's budget, unveiled May 23, calls for selling an additional 270 million barrels of oil over the next decade, raising an estimated $16.6 billion. The proposal, on top of planned auctions expected over the next few years, could push the reserve below 300 million barrels by 2025. It now is at 688 million barrels.

The petroleum reserve, created in the wake of the 1970s Arab oil embargo, stores oil at four underground sites in Texas and Louisiana. The reserve guards against disruptions in the flow of oil from the Middle East and other countries, and lawmakers from both parties have long warned against using it to raise money.

But some Republicans say North Dakota's oil-rich Bakken region offers a de facto reserve that can be tapped if needed. "The world's changed a lot," said Rep. John Shimkus, (R-IL), a senior member of the House Energy Committee. "We're one of the largest oil producers in the world."

Asked if he was worried that Trump's proposal could deplete the reserve, Shimkus laughed. "Not when you have North Dakota and the Dakota (Access) Pipeline," he said.

Not all Republicans agree. The petroleum reserve "is not an ATM for new spending," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in 2015 as the Obama administration proposed selling off a smaller of portion of the reserve to help fund a budget agreement. Murkowski, who chairs the Energy Committee, was reviewing Trump's proposal but "is generally opposed to selling off emergency oil reserves, particularly as 'pay-fors' for unrelated measures," a spokeswoman said.

Richard Newell, a former head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said the plan could cause the United States to break its obligation as a member of the International Energy Agency to hold 90 days'...

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