Companies snap up emergency oil

President Obama authorized the SPR sale late last month as part of a coordinated effort with International Energy Agency member countries. The U.S. agreed to sell 30 million barrels of oil, while IEA countries said they would offer up an additional 30 million barrels.

Obama administration officials said the sales were intended to make up for supply disruptions caused by the unrest in Libya. But critics, including Republicans in Congress, said the sale amounted to a ploy to score political points amid high gas prices.

Gas prices averaged about $3.71 per gallon in the United States this time last month, before Obama authorized the sale. They averaged $3.63 per gallon Monday, according to AAA.

The federal government has authorized the sale of oil from the reserve to address supply shortages just two other times: in 1991 at the beginning of Operation Desert Storm and in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. There have been a handful of minor SPR releases.