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U.S. Faces Increased Pressure to Tap Strategic Oil Reserve

The Obama administration faces increasing pressure from Democrats to draw on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if political unrest in Libya keeps pushing up fuel prices.

“We must be prepared to tap that emergency supply,” Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said in an e-mail today. “The main purpose of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to protect against significant disruptions of our nation’s oil supply.”

Representatives Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Peter Welch of Vermont also urged use of the federal inventories, in a letter Feb. 24. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand issued similar requests.

The U.S. reserve holds 727 million barrels of crude oil, according to the U.S. Energy Department’s website. The U.S. approved release of some of the oil in 2008 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the Gulf Coast.

Gasoline futures hit a 30-month high today as political strife in Libya and the Middle East escalated, threatening global oil shipments, and as an increase in U.S. jobs indicated fuel demand may improve.

Gasoline Futures Up

Gasoline for April delivery added 2.02 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $3.0464 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Regular gasoline at the pump, averaged nationwide, advanced 4.4 cents to $3.471 a gallon yesterday, AAA said on its website.

The turmoil in Libya is causing a “very small” disruption in world oil markets and isn’t enough to make the U.S. dip into the reserve, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said March 1.

Major economies have enough crude oil reserves to soften the blow of any sustained supply disruption in the Middle East and North Africa, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said yesterday.

Congressional Republicans are calling for opening oil production off the Alaska coast and for increasing output in the Gulf of Mexico and on federal lands.

“The speaker is a long-time supporter of the all-of-the-above energy strategy to increase the supply of American energy,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, said by phone today.

Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, didn’t immediately return an e-mail today asking if the strategic reserves had made any releases or sales. On March 2 she said no releases had been made in response to supply disruptions in Libya.

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