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Tapping Of Oil Reserves Likely

Pump jacks work on the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center on the Teapot Dome Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 near Midwest, Wyoming.
AP (file)
The Bush administration indicated Thursday it is likely to grant a request from several U.S. refiners to borrow crude oil from the nation's emergency stockpile to help offset supply disruptions along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ivan.

CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer reports the administration is giving a strong signal it will take the highly unusual step.

"Certainly Hurricane Ivan had an effect on the supply of oil imports and production in the Gulf of Mexico," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "It has limited some refiners' access to crude oil supplies."

The spokesman said the department is reviewing a request for Gulf Coast refiners to "borrow" a small quantity from the reserve "to make sure our system continues to operate," but insists the move would be used to respond to disruptions, not to "manipulate prices," reports Maer.

In the past, President Bush has resisted calls to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, located in Texas and Louisiana, in an effort to counter soaring prices. Mr. Bush had criticized President Clinton's move in the fall of 2000 to tap the reserve, saying it was a political effort to help Democrat Al Gore, George W. Bush's opponent in the 2000 election.

"We've always said the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was set up to protect against physical disruptions of oil supplies such as natural emergencies or natural disasters, and not to manipulate prices or for political purposes," McClellan told a White House briefing.

McClellan confirmed reports that several U.S. refineries had asked to borrow for short periods of time small quantities of oil from the reserve supply. His comments appeared to suggest that such a move by the administration was likely.

McClellan said it was important "to make sure that our system continues to operate until production and imports resume."

Hurricane Ivan shut down oil refineries in the Gulf Coast and kept tankers from ports. The drop in supplies from the Gulf — which accounts for a third of domestic oil production — helped push up oil prices.

Temporary loans of oil could help ease crude oil prices, which are a particularly sensitive issue in the presidential campaign.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has said the United States should divert oil being used to fill the stockpile in the short term and bring that oil to market to decrease prices.

In the past, the White House has contended that such a move would have only a negligible impact on pump prices. Kerry has also said the administration should do more to demand that Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations increase supply.

Congress created the oil stockpile in the 1970s in response to the Mideast oil embargo. It holds about 670 million barrels of oil in underground salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas.

McClellan pointed out that the Bush administration had made such loans of oil before — in October 2002 when Hurricane Lili disrupted Gulf Coast shipments.