By the OGJ Online Staff
HOUSTON, Oct. 4 -- The US Department of Energy said Thursday it had not made a final decision on whether it plans to add about 150 million bbl of oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
"It's still under active consideration," said Deputy Sec. of Energy Frank Blake, following remarks made at a government winter fuels conference in Alexandria, Va.
Adding to the SPR is one of several energy-related national security items the White House is mulling in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York City and outside Washington, DC, Sept. 11.
There is strong interest on Capitol Hill in filling the 544 million bbl stockpile to its 700 million bbl capacity. House Republican leaders led by Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) would like to see the government have in reserve an even larger amount -- 1 billion bbl as was first envisioned when the SPR was created in the mid-1970s (OGJ Online, Oct. 1, 2001). Barton earlier this week said he would introduce legislation to expand crude storage but has since decided to hold off on formal legislation because DOE has the authority to act on its own.
Instead, Barton's panel Thursday approved a non-binding resolution that calls on President George W. Bush to fill the stockpiles, located in Louisiana and Texas. The committee also called on the administration to buy oil from marginal wells, or take oil "in kind" from public lands instead of accepting cash royalty payments.
Expanding the SPR could be an expensive proposition, but it has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The cost of filling the SPR to its current capacity could cost billions of dollars, depending on world oil prices. And adding new capacity could cost at least another $1 billion, according to a 1999 Oak Ridge Laboratory report.
But money is a lot easier to find on Capitol Hill if it aims to improve national security.
Nevertheless, the SPR will be competing with many other projects near and dear to lawmakers following the White House's call to spend up to $75 billion on an economic stimulus package. That is beyond the $40 billion in emergency spending and $15 billion in loans and aid to the airline industry.
Also being actively considered for independents is a portion of a House energy bill that would add $8 billion in tax incentives for marginal production.