President George W. Bush on Tuesday ordered the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) filled to its capacity of 700 million barrels to provide a bigger cushion against a disruption in supplies, especially imports from the volatile Middle East.
"We're only one terrorist attack on a tanker away from a serious and significant disruption of our energy supply out of the Middle East," said Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), who backed the administration's plan.
The announcement comes a day before OPEC oil ministers meet to decide how much the cartel should cut from its current production to keep crude prices, which have fallen nearly 25% since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, from dropping further.
OPEC said last month it had considered dropping production by one million barrels a day. However, news sources say that amount could rise to 1.4-million.
The White House plan would ultimately boost supplies in the SPR by about 108 million barrels. The stockpile currently has 545 million barrels stored in huge underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana, with another 47 million barrels scheduled to be returned by energy firms for previous loans.
"Filling the Strategic Petroleum reserve up to capacity will strengthen the long-term energy security of the United States," Bush said in a statement.
The White House plan does not call for the U.S. government to purchase oil in the open market, which would have filled up the reserve at a much faster rate. Instead, the government will boost the stockpile with so-called royalty-in-kind oil from energy companies who will turn over a portion of the crude they drill on federal leases.