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The Biden administration has dismissed concerns expressed by Republican lawmakers that the record drawdown in crude oil stocks from the strategic petroleum reserve had damaged the salt cavern system where the oil is stored.
Citing a letter to that effect, Reuters reported that some Republican members of Congress had become worried that the release of 180 million barrels of crude from those caverns had damaged their structure. The cause of worry is the fact that oil is withdrawn from the caverns through the injection of water, and water can dissolve the walls of the caverns, which affects the storage space.
The SPR withdrawals from last year led to a "rapid depletion of the SPR” that “may have caused damage to SPR's pipelines and caverns, compromising its ability to meet its energy security mission in the event of a true energy supply interruption," Republican Senator John Barrasso and Representative Cathy McMorris wrote to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last year.
The response of Granholm’s department came from another official, Kathleen Hogan, who said that "The necessary emergency sales that took place in 2022 did not damage our SPR pipelines or caverns."
"The Nation's top geoscientists at DOE's Sandia National Laboratory continue to closely monitor cavern integrity, and the SPR remains operationally ready to respond to future supply disruptions, should they occur," she added.
The SPR currently holds 372 million barrels of crude oil, down from 638 million at the beginning of 2021. It is the lowest level since December 1983. Oil was first delivered to the U.S. SPR in 1977.
Last year, the Biden administration released a total of more than 220 million barrels from the system to counter rising retail fuel prices. Plans were to start replenishing the SPR as soon as prices fell to between $67 and $72 per barrel but when price did fell to these levels, the administration deflected, indicating it was in no rush to start buying.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com