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Opinion
Julian Lee

Trump’s Plan to Stockpile Oil Plan Has a Rotten-Egg Smell

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve needs sour crude, not the sweet stuff from Texas.

Texas frackers pump the wrong type of crude for an SPR refill.

Texas frackers pump the wrong type of crude for an SPR refill.

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

The U.S. shale oil industry may not benefit as much as President Donald Trump hopes from his plan to top up the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve as oil prices plunge to historically low levels. He vowed to fill it “right to the top” with home-pumped crude in order to support domestic producers and boost American stockpiles at cheap prices.

But there’s a hitch in his plan. The problem is sulfur — which smells like rotten eggs — or rather the lack of it in the crude pumped from wells drilled into the shale rocks of Texas and elsewhere.

About two-thirds of the spare capacity in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, is for sour crude — with a sulfur content of more than 0.5% — but the crude pumped from the shale formations of West Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. has very low concentrations of sulfur, if any at all. This will make it unsuitable for blending into the sour crude stored in the SPR.