The need for a national oil storage reserve has been recognized for at least five decades.

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes advocated the stockpiling of emergency crude oil in 1944. President Truman's Minerals Policy Commission proposed a strategic oil supply in 1952. President Eisenhower suggested an oil reserve after the 1956 Suez Crisis. The Cabinet Task Force on Oil Import Control recommended a similar reserve in 1970.

But few events so dramatically underscored the need for a strategic oil reserve as the 1973-74 oil embargo.  The cutoff of oil flowing into the United States from the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in response to American aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, sent economic shockwaves throughout the Nation.  In the aftermath of the oil crises, the United States established the SPR.

President Ford set the SPR into motion when he signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) on December 22, 1975.  The legislation declared it to be U.S. policy to establish a reserve of up to one billion barrels of petroleum. 

The Gulf of Mexico was a logical choice for oil storage sites.  More than 500 salt domes, known to be an inexpensive and secure means of petroleum storage, are concentrated along the coast.  Also, the Gulf Coast is the location of many U.S. refineries and distribution points for tankers, barges and pipelines.  In April 1977, the government acquired several existing salt caverns to serve as the first storage sites. Construction of the first surface facilities began in June 1977.

On July 21, 1977, the first oil - approximately 412,000 barrels of Saudi Arabian light crude - was delivered to the SPR.  Fill of the Nation's emergency oil reserve had begun.