Oil prices dived more than $5 a barrel on Thursday as the United States is considering the release of up to 180 million barrels from its strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) over several months to calm soaring crude prices.
Brent futures for May fell $5.47, or 4.8 per cent, to $107.98 a barrel at 0317 GMT. The May contract expires today and the most actively traded June future was down $5.22 to $106.22. US West Texas Intermediate futures for May delivery fell $6.06, or 5.6 per cent, to $101.76 a barrel after earlier slipping to a low of $100.85.
The Biden administration is reportedly considering the release of up to 180 million barrels of oil in the coming months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
If confirmed, this will be the largest-ever release since the reserve was created in 1974.
The war in Ukraine has rocked global energy markets in recent weeks over concerns that supplies will be cut.
The soaring cost of fuel has become a major political issue in the US ahead of mid-term elections in November.
Without giving further details, the White House said that Mr Biden will deliver remarks at 13:30 local time on Thursday, on “his administration’s actions to reduce the impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s price hike on energy prices and lower gas prices at the pump for American families”.
News of the potential major release of oil by the US came as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies including Russia were due to meet on Thursday.
The group of major oil producing nations, which is known as Opec+, is expected to stick to its existing deal to gradually increase production.
The cost of oil has jumped in recent weeks, with Brent Crude hitting $139 a barrel earlier this month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions slapped on Moscow by the US and its allies.
Energy prices have fallen back since then, but Brent Crude is still almost 70% higher than it was a year ago.
The steady release from the reserves would be a meaningful sum and come near to closing the domestic production gap relative to February 2020, before the coronavirus caused a steep decline in oil output.
The Biden administration in November announced the release of 50 million barrels from the strategic reserve in coordination with other countries. And after the Ukrainian war began, the U.S. and 30 other countries agreed to an additional release of 60 million barrels from reserves, with half of the total coming from the U.S.
According to the Department of Energy, which manages it, more than 568 million barrels of oil were held in the reserve as of Mar. 25.
The United States consumes roughly 20 million barrels of oil a day. High energy prices have contributed to high inflation and pushed OPEC Plus, the cartel of oil producers that includes the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and others, to pump more oil.
Mr. Biden’s release of 50 million barrels barely dented the market. The world consumes roughly 100 million barrels a day, and prices are set in this global market. When this oil was released, it was done in coordination with other world governments, including Britain, India, Japan and South Korea.
The emergency stockpile is stored in underground caverns in Texas and Louisiana. The reserve was established after the 1973-74 oil embargo by Arab members of OPEC, and has been tapped in emergencies like the buildup to the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when much of oil infrastructure along the Gulf of Mexico was damaged