Biden tells Energy Dept.: use all tools to bring fuel to storm-hit areas

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on response in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington, U.S. September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday he has directed the Department of Energy to use all tools, including the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), to keep gasoline flowing in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

“It’s important to know that the region hit by it (Ida) is a key center of our nation’s oil production and refining infrastructure…that’s why we’re not waiting to assess the full impact of the storm,” Biden said.

The strategic reserve has four major storage facilities, two in Texas and two in Louisiana, to deliver crude to nearby refineries for fuel production. It was developed in the 1970s after the Arab oil embargo spiked gasoline prices, but has been tapped recently after unusual fuel disruptions like hurricanes.

Ida cut through multiple U.S. regions, devastating parts of Louisiana. On Wednesday rains caused massive flooding in the U.S. Northeast.

Presidents can authorize loans of SPR oil, known as exchange agreements, to private companies. After 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, refineries borrowed 5.2 million barrels, repaid in early 2018 with interest.

Presidents can also direct the Energy Department to hold emergency sales of crude, such as in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

In 2014 the department also created the 1 million barrel Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve after Superstorm Sandy caused fuel shortages in the region.

Roughly 1.5 million barrels of daily offshore crude production is currently shut in, according to federal data from Wednesday. U.S. energy companies, prevalent along the Gulf Coast, were straining to get operations working again due to lingering loss of electrical power and other problems related to storm damage.

Biden noted that the Environmental Protection Agency approved emergency fuel waivers for Louisiana and Mississippi to increase the availability of gasoline. The EPA issued the waivers this week, allowing winter-grade fuel to be sold out of season to avoid shortages.

The SPR had 621.3 million barrels of crude in stock as of last week, according to the Energy Department, the lowest since August 2003, data showed.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Nandita Bose and Timothy Gardner in Washington; additional reporting by Stephanie Kelly; Editing by David Gregorio)

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