The Energy Department said on Friday it would release up to 50 million barrels of oil from its emergency stockpiles to help prices stay lower through the peak winter months. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which President Donald Trump has criticized for having its control over prices, has oil stored on reserve facilities in Texas and Louisiana, as well as a storage hub at the Cushing, Okla., port.
The decision by the administration to start up the SPR was initially expected to be last minute and was tipped to be as much as one or two months away.
“The Mid-Continent, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeastern states and Canada face especially high demand for heating oil from January through April,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “Oil from the strategic petroleum reserve will be strategically distributed in the week commencing January 14 to those affected areas.”
Prices at the pump have been creeping higher this winter, thanks to a combination of a relatively warm fall and winter coupled with rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
On Friday, wholesale prices of unleaded regular gasoline hit a nine-year high. The financial markets welcomed the news. On Friday afternoon, West Texas Intermediate crude futures traded at $42.41 a barrel.
The latest move by the administration to pull the U.S. back into an internationally accepted set of rules for oil that keep prices at a level that consumers can use could be seen as evidence that a shift has come for President Trump — having told the world in 2014 to “get ready” for oil prices rising to $200 a barrel after the drop the previous year, not to mention the General Motors bailout in 2008.