Murkowski mulls bill to set criteria for strategic oil releases

They allege it is a political decision at odds with the purpose of the 727-million barrel reserve.

Murkowski indicated that her consideration of legislation is preliminary, noting she was surprised by the decision to release oil from the U.S. stockpile because oil and gasoline prices have been dropping of late.

“I think it is an effort to deflect from the very bad news on the economy right now,” she said of the release.

Obama administration and IEA officials say the release is meant to make up for disruptions in crude oil supply, stemming from the unrest in Libya, that threaten the global economy.

“The normal seasonal increase in refiner demand expected for this summer will exacerbate the shortfall further. Greater tightness in the oil market threatens to undermine the fragile global economic recovery,” the IEA said in announcing the release Thursday.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said: “We are taking this action in response to the ongoing loss of crude oil due to supply disruptions in Libya and other countries and their impact on the global economic recovery.”

A senior administration official called the release perfectly consistent with the purpose of the stockpile.

"The U.S. maintains the Strategic Petroleum Reserve precisely for this purpose, to respond to domestic or international energy supply shortages and disruption s of significant scope or duration that have a potentially damaging effect on the economy," the official said on a call with reporters.

But a number of top Republicans took aim at the decision Thursday.

“Frankly, it's pathetic that Democrats not only block domestic energy production at every turn, President Obama is now drawing down on our nation’s ‘strategic’ oil reserve which is intended for national emergencies, not as a political tool when a President is feeling heat over high gas prices,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a statement.

—This post was updated at 4:12 p.m.