The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was established as a safeguard against emergencies such as the cutoff of oil supplies from the Middle East. Even when prices have spiked, previous administrations have been loath to tap the SPR. President George H.W. Bush drew on the SPR during the first Gulf War, and George W. Bush tapped the reserves following Hurricane Katrina.
The only significant non-emergency drawdowns, in fact, have taken place during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Obama is reportedly considering drawing on the SPR an unprecedented second year in a row, but the only “emergency” in sight is the public’s dissatisfaction with high gas prices — and the fact that it’s happening in an election year.
Drawing down the SPR in the absence of an emergency is bad policy. With only enough oil to fuel the country for 36 days, the SPR is barely enough to get us through a short-term cutoff in supplies.