US oil reserve sale reduced in transportation bill deal

The U.S. transportation bill will be partially funded by selling off some of the U.S. emergency oil reserve, but less will be sold than originally planned after negotiators in the Senate and House of Representatives reached a deal on Tuesday.

About 66 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be sold from 2023 to 2025 under the deal, instead of about 100 million barrels, the amount in the original bill passed by the Senate in July.

A technician inspects a gauge on a meter station at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve's Bryan Mound sit
Department of Energy
A technician inspects a gauge on a meter station at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve's Bryan Mound sit

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, is expected to reach the floor of each chamber by Friday, when a short-term funding measure runs out. Once passed, it would then go to President Barack Obama's desk to be signed.

The world's largest supply of government-owned emergency oil, held in a series of salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana, currently holds 695 million barrels, well over the minimum required by international agreements. The deal could also allow the secretary of energy to direct the sale of some oil during fiscal years 2016 to 2017.

Amid the drilling boom that has boosted domestic oil production by 80 percent since 2008, the SPR has been a target of lawmakers looking for ways to help fund legislation for everything from highway improvements to a program to speed new drugs to market.

In a budget deal reached in October between Republicans in Congress and Obama, the government will sell 58 million barrels from the SPR between 2018 and 2025.

Opponents of tapping the reserve say the oil is needed to help control global oil prices in the event of a supply emergency somewhere in the Middle East or elsewhere.

"The SPR was not designed to draw down so much oil so frequently over such a long period of time," said Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and one of the negotiators on Tuesday's deal who pushed to reduce the amount of the sale.