Yes, Democrats, let's just give our oil reserves away
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, created following the oil crisis of the 1970s, exists to supply Americans during a war or other emergency. Democrats are now calling for oil to be released from the reserve to help reduce the high gas prices that they themselves have created. This is not an emergency unless you believe that the loss of Democrat seats in the 2022 midterm election constitutes an emergency.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve currently holds 638 million barrels, approximately 1,000 days of net petroleum imports — but far, far less (only 32 days worth) of total domestic demand of 20 million barrels per day. At the maximum draw-down capacity of 4.4 million barrels per day, the SPR would last only 145 days.
In fact, a release of 4.4 million barrels per day would be impossible because it would leave us strategically undefended. It is irresponsible to remove any amount from the SPR except in times of true emergency, but the little that could be removed would not be enough to affect global oil prices and therefore would not significantly reduce gas prices in this country or anywhere else. Global oil production is currently 95 million barrels per day: an additional half-million barrels, however imprudent, would have little effect, and that effect would be temporary. If anything, it would simply postpone more drilling and thus reduce long-term supply.
In a recent letter to the president, eleven Democrat senators, all from the northeast, listed a half-dozen reasons for higher prices, including "US exports and overseas supply collusion [by OPEC]" — without ever mentioning the primary cause, which is their own and the administration's pressure on the oil and gas industry to reduce drilling.
Give them credit: Democrats have been successful at suppressing energy production and so inflicting misery on most Americans. Democrats are good at creating government programs that don't work, like Solyndra the last time around or the $174 billion for electric vehicles and charging stations in the just-signed infrastructure bill. E.V.s constitute only 2% of the vehicle market in the U.S. There will be a lot of charging stations going unused.
Meanwhile, Democrats are driving down the supply of the fossil fuels that run our cars, heat our homes and businesses, and supply all manner of chemicals and plastics. The current U.S. rig count, the best measure of production activity, stands at 556, barely half of what prevailed during the pre-COVID years of the Trump administration. The eleven Democrats whine about OPEC's production limits while their own policies contribute to production limits at home.
The senators claim that their constituents are being "devastated" by high gas prices, which they and their party have brought about, but they are unwilling to take responsibility. So far as I can see, the main purpose of their crocodile-tears letter is to cover their backsides and attempt to shift the blame elsewhere.
It is a remarkable admission by these eleven Democrat senators: that high gas prices, brought about by their own party, are devastating the country and that more oil must be brought to the table, just not by producing it. But the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a long-term or even a short-term fix. Most of the reserve must be retained for a true emergency. The small amount that could safely be removed is not enough to alter global prices, but increased U.S. drilling will.
What Democrats should be doing is exactly what they will never do: free oil and gas producers of unnecessary restrictions, including environmental, leasing, bank financing, and other controls. Under President Trump, restrictions were withdrawn, and the American oil and gas industry supplied record amounts of energy at near-record-low prices. Adjusted for inflation, the $2-per-gallon prices that prevailed under Trump were the lowest in U.S. history.
By blocking the XL pipeline and so cutting off imports from Canada, shutting down drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and on all federal lands, pressuring banks not to lend to oil and gas producers, demanding unrealistic SEC reporting for climate change risks, and threatening onerous new environmental restrictions, Biden has again made America dependent on foreign suppliers and, with them, on higher-priced oil.
Only a person blinded by ideology could fail to see the solution to high energy prices — prices that may well go higher in 2022. I suspect that all eleven senators demanding a release from the Strategic Reserve are just that: blinded by ideology. They fail to see the obvious: that if U.S. energy producers are blocked from drilling, they will not drill, or they will drill overseas.
Constituents should write these eleven senators a letter of their own. They should tell them how hard it is to pay an extra two or three hundred dollars per week for gasoline, natural gas, and home heating oil. And they should demand that Democrats own up to what they have done. By restricting energy production and distribution, Democrats have caused prices to increase. Instead of preparing the country for higher global energy prices by increasing domestic production, as they should have done, Democrats have left us vulnerable.
Four-dollar gas is bad enough, but imagine how it would be during a war that shut down Middle East exports on a global scale, especially with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve drained as the eleven Democrat senators want to do. It is irresponsible to reduce our energy reserves just to score political points. If the eleven senators want to stop what they call the "devastation," the solution is to return immediately to President Trump's prudent policy of expanding domestic production of all sources of energy.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
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