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Former Obama economic adviser: Tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve


A sign of things to come from the Obama White House?

Austan Goolsbee, who served as one of President Obama's top economic advisers, writes in the Wall Street Journal that it's time to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- which would boost oil supply and thus potentially drive down oil prices.

Part of Goolsbee's case is that there's too much oil in the reserve.

Domestic production hit record levels in 2011, at about 9.5 million barrels per day. According to the Energy Information Administration, oil imports have dropped by more than 20% since 2006 -- and imports from sources outside of North America (that is, from Canada and Mexico) are down 30%, to fewer than seven million barrels per day.

Yet despite the decreasing strategic need, we have filled the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to historic levels. During the first 30 years or so of the reserve's existence, its volume averaged fewer than 550 million barrels -- 75% of capacity. It is now at almost 700 million barrels or 96% of capacity (and was at 100% before the release last summer). In 2005, Congress authorized more capacity, to enable the reserve to reach one billion barrels.

And Goolsbee also says that tapping into the reserve -- at current oil prices -- would bring billions in the U.S. Treasury.

Keeping the extra oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a form of insurance policy and so it isn't free. If we reduced the reserve to 510 million barrels from 696 million barrels, the sales would bring in more than $20 billion to the Treasury. Are taxpayers really getting $20 billion worth of value from having an extra 25 days worth of those oil imports sitting in a salt mine in Louisiana?