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Market Extra: U.S. taps Strategic Petroleum Reserve in global effort to push down oil prices

After weeks of anticipation, President Joe Biden on Tuesday opened the taps on the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, releasing a temporary flood of crude in a coordinated bid with other energy-consuming countries to tamp down gasoline and other energy prices while potentially provoking a showdown with OPEC and its allies.

“Today, the president is announcing that the Department of Energy will make available releases of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower prices for Americans and address the mismatch between demand exiting the pandemic and supply,” the White House said in a statement.

The move was coordinated with China, India, Japan, South Korea and the U.K., which were also releasing reserves, the White House said. The coordinated action gives the move a new wrinkle, but doesn’t ensure that oil or gasoline prices will see a sustained fall, analysts said.

The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil, according to the Energy Department. It held around 606 million barrels of crude on Nov. 12, according to government data.

The federally owned oil stocks are stored in underground salt caverns at four storage sites in Texas and Louisiana. The Energy Department said it would make up to 32 million barrels of SPR crude oil available to refiners through an exchange, while accelerating the timeline for a sale of an additional 18 million barrels mandated by Congress.

The Biden administration had tried unsuccessfully in recent months to persuade the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, to speed up production increases in response to surging crude prices.

Oil futures initially extended losses after the announcement, but then reversed higher. Analysts said investors had largely factored in the release.

Indeed, the threat of an SPR release had hung over the market for weeks, with futures for both U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate and global benchmark Brent crude posting four consecutive weekly losses and hitting seven-week lows last week.

WTI crude for January delivery
CL00,
+2.59%

CLF22,
+2.59%

jumped $1.93, or 2.5%, to $78.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile, while January Brent crude
BRN00,
+3.34%

BRNF22,
+3.34%

was up $2.64, or 3.3%, at $82.34 a barrel.

Gasoline futures also jumped, with the December contract
RBZ21,
+2.83%

up 5.22 cents, or 2.3%, at $2.3125 a gallon on Nymex. Gasoline futures are down around 4.7% so far in November. Prices at the gasoline pump last week stood not far off their highest U.S. Thanksgiving holiday period level on record.

While the threat of a coordinated SPR release was credited with pulling crude prices back from recent highs, analysts have questioned how much lasting impact the move will have. Crude ended higher on Monday after Bloomberg reported that OPEC+ were prepared to rethink their planned production increases in response to threatened reserve releases.

Read: Why tapping the SPR is one of many ‘bad’ options to ease gasoline prices

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