About the SPR
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), the world's largest supply of emergency crude oil, was established primarily to reduce the impact of disruptions in supplies of petroleum products and to carry out obligations of the United States under the international energy program. The federally-owned oil stocks are stored in huge underground salt caverns at four sites along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. The sheer size of the SPR (authorized storage capacity of 713.5 million barrels) makes it a significant deterrent to oil import cutoffs and a key tool in foreign policy.
SPR oil is sold competitively when the President finds, pursuant to the conditions set forth in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), that a sale is required. Such conditions have only existed three times, most recently in June 2011 when the President directed a sale of 30 million barrels of crude oil to offset disruptions in supply due to unrest in Libya. During this severe energy supply interruption, the United States acted in coordination with its partners in the International Energy Agency (IEA). IEA countries released altogether a total of 60 million barrels of petroleum.
Additionally, the Secretary of Energy may authorize limited releases in the form of exchanges with entities that are not part of the Federal Government. This authority allows the SPR to negotiate exchanges where the SPR ultimately receives more oil than it released; thereby acquiring additional oil. With the exception of the 2000 Heating Oil Exchange, the SPR has entered into negotiated contracts at the request of private companies in order to address short-term, emergency supply disruptions to a refiner's normal operations on several occasions.