Strategic Petroleum Reserve: GAO-08-521T

February 2008
GAO Reports;2/26/2008, p1
Government Documents
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was created in 1975 to help insulate the U.S. economy from oil supply disruptions and currently holds about 700 million barrels of crude oil. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to increase the SPR storage capacity from 727 million barrels to 1 billion barrels, which it plans to accomplish by 2018. Since 1999, oil for the SPR has generally been obtained through the royalty-in-kind program, whereby the government receives oil instead of cash for payment of royalties on leases of federal property. The Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) collects the royalty oil and transfers it to DOE, which then trades it for oil suitable for the SPR. As DOE begins to expand the SPR, past experiences can help inform future efforts to fill the reserve in the most cost-effective manner. In that context, GAO's testimony today will focus on: (1) factors GAO recommends DOE consider when filling the SPR, and (2) the cost-effectiveness of using oil received through the royalty-in-kind program to fill the SPR. To address these issues, GAO relied on its 2006 report on the SPR, as well as its ongoing review of the royalty-in-kind program, where GAO interviewed officials at both DOE and MMS, and reviewed DOE's SPR policies and procedures. DOE provided comments on a draft of this testimony, which were incorporated where appropriate. To decrease the cost of filling the SPR and improve its efficiency, GAO recommended in previous work that DOE should include at least 10 percent heavy crude oils in the SPR. If DOE bought 100 million barrels of heavy crude oil during its expansion of the SPR it could save over $1 billion in nominal terms, assuming a price differential of $12 between the price of light crude oil and the lower price of heavy crude oil, the average differential over the last five years. Having heavy crude oil in the SPR would also make the SPR more compatible with many U.S. refineries, helping these refineries run more efficiently in the event that a supply disruption triggers use of the SPR. DOE indicated that, due to the planned SPR expansion, determinations of the amount of heavy oil to include in the SPR should wait until it prepares a new study of U.S. Gulf Coast refining requirements. In addition, we recommended that DOE consider acquiring a steady dollar value--rather than a steady volume--of oil over time when filling the SPR. This "dollar-cost-averaging" approach would allow DOE to acquire more oil when prices are low and less when prices are high. GAO found that if DOE had used this purchasing approach from October 2001 through August 2005, it would have saved approximately $590 million, or over 10 percent, in fill costs. GAO's simulations indicate that DOE could save money using this approach for future SPR fills, regardless of whether oil prices are trending up or down as long as there is price volatility. GAO also recommended that DOE consider...


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