Top Republicans in Senate warn against tapping oil stockpile

The Senate’s GOP leadership is urging President Obama not to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and instead preserve the option for a “truly rainy day.”

A letter to Obama Monday from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and six other Republicans arrives after the White House has said in recent weeks that a release is an option. “We are concerned by recent reports that you are contemplating a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in response to record gasoline prices,” the letter states.

“The SPR was created for use only in emergencies to safeguard our economy and national security against severe oil supply disruptions, not as a mechanism to control the price at the pump. We strongly urge you to refrain from deploying this vital strategic asset unless and until a severe oil supply disruption occurs,” adds the letter from McConnell, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and others.

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One senior Republican sought to preemptively cast any SPR release as a campaign maneuver and inappropriate effort to use the stockpile to try and affect prices.

A release about the letter from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is titled “SPR is for an emergency – not a presidential campaign.”

With global crude prices elevated, average gasoline prices have recently set a series of highs for specific calendar days, but have not approached the all-time peak of $4.11 per gallon reached in the summer of 2008.

Gasoline has been sliding recently and is currently averaging $3.78 per gallon nationwide, which is 35 cents per gallon above the price at this time in 2011, according to AAA.

The Obama administration has repeatedly called an SPR release an option in recent weeks amid sanctions that are curtailing the amount of Iranian crude in the global market and other factors.

Officials have sought to cast a potential release as a way to address market disruptions and economic threats. “In regular consultation with our international partners, we monitor global oil markets and we keep all options on the table to deal with disruptions if necessary,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Sept. 19, one of several times he has called tapping the SPR a possibility.

“We simply monitor the situation mindful of the impact that higher global oil prices have on global economic growth, American economic growth, and mindful of all the various implications that arise when you have a situation like that,” Carney said.

The last release of oil from the SPR occurred in June of 2011.

Obama announced the release of 30 million barrels at a time when the conflict in Libya had removed supplies from the market, part of a larger coordinated release with other International Energy Agency member nations.