WASHINGTON, April 1 ― President Joe Biden announced yesterday a record release from US strategic oil reserves to “ease the pain” of soaring domestic fuel prices, saying the “wartime” measure will defuse Russia's leverage as an energy power.
Biden laid out the giant release ― a million barrels of US government oil every day for six months ― in a speech where he blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for causing fuel cost increases and also accused big oil companies of putting profits ahead of the national interest.
The bold measure, by far the biggest use of the strategic stockpile in history, aims to cool down the overheated global oil market and calm inflationary shockwaves ripping through the American economy.
In addition to the main US contribution, other countries have agreed to dip into their own reserves in a coordinated approach, the White House said, without saying which nations were participating.
“It will provide a historic amount of supply for a historic amount of time,” Biden said, calling the use of reserves a “wartime bridge” to get the country through until oil companies ramp up production.
In the meantime, the daily US oil injection will “ease the pain that families are feeling,” Biden said.
Struggling with bad poll numbers and November's looming midterm elections, when Republicans are forecast to take over Congress from the Democrats, the president is scrambling to distance himself from the spiralling prices ― and show he has solutions.
The Democrat called cost increases the “Putin price hike,” underlining that the attack on Ukraine by top energy producer Russia, followed by Western sanctions, caused the surge.
Allies are “coming together to deny Putin the ability to weaponize his energy resources against American families, and families and democracies around the world,” he said.
Biden also aimed strikingly tough comments at oil companies, which he said were hoarding supply.
“This is not the time to sit on record profits,” he said. “Provide some relief for your customers, not investors and executives.”
Oil prices fell sharply even on initial reports of the plan, which came as the Opec+ group of petroleum exporters decided to raise output only modestly despite the jump in crude prices in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Congressional Republicans were unimpressed by Biden's move, issuing a statement that the oil reserves were not meant to be used as a “political Hail Mary” and only in “national security emergencies and major weather events.”
Fallout from Russia sanctions
The release dwarfs earlier uses of the strategic stockpile announced by the Biden administration in tandem with other countries on March 1 following the Russian attack, and also last year in response to rising inflation.
Despite a strongly rebounding economy and rapidly receding Covid-19 pandemic, Biden is getting little credit from voters, who instead blame him for rising prices everywhere from the supermarket to car dealerships.
Supply chain snags related to the different pace of economic recoveries around the world are part of the inflation phenomenon. Also underlying the politically perilous trend are ever higher fuel costs, which in turn push up prices for transport of almost all goods.
For US motorists, the price shock as they fill cars is a constant irritation. “I did this,” reads a sticker featuring a picture of Biden that has been fixed next to pump handles in many stations.
Gasoline prices currently stand at an average of US$4.23 (RM17.80) a gallon, up 47 per cent from their level a year ago.
Oil prices surged close to US$140 a barrel in March. Prices have retreated somewhat since the United States banned Russian energy imports on March 8, but have lingered above US$100 a barrel most of the subsequent period. ― AFP