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Biden's plan to tap petroleum reserve unpopular among North Dakota oil supporters

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Pump jacks

Pump jacks bob for oil off U.S. Highway 85 in western North Dakota.

The Biden administration's decision this week to release oil out of storage to alleviate high gasoline prices drew criticism from supporters of North Dakota's oil industry.

There's a better way to achieve lower prices at the pump, according to North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness.

"How about encouraging American energy production, and we just produce more oil every day?" he said.

The Biden administration has spent the year discouraging domestic oil production, Ness said. North Dakota leaders have been particularly frustrated by the administration's decision earlier this year to halt lease sales for oil development on federal land. A judge recently ordered sales to resume.

Addressing climate change has been a focus of the Biden administration.

The U.S. Department of Energy controls the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which consists of underground caverns along the Gulf Coast where crude oil is stored. The facilities can store more than 700 million barrels of oil, which is more than 60 times the volume of oil produced daily in the United States.

The reserve is slated to release 50 million barrels in the coming months. The U.S. is coordinating the effort with China, India, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom, all of which are releasing oil stored in their nations as well. The idea is that more oil on the market will cause prices to drop.

The price of West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. crude benchmarck, has trended upward all year. It climbed above $80 per barrel in October, hitting a level not seen in seven years. Gasoline prices tend to mirror crude oil prices. The average gasoline price in Bismarck was $3.19 per gallon on Tuesday, nearly $1.20 per gallon more than this time last year.

"American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic," the White House said in a statement. "That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply."

Earlier this year, the Biden administration called on OPEC to boost production more than it intended within its nations to cause prices to fall, but the group did not comply with his request.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., referenced that in a statement issued Tuesday.

"The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant for supplying energy during national emergencies," he said. "The only national emergency is President Biden's awful energy policy in which he has purposefully curtailed American production and then embarrassingly pleaded OPEC to make up the difference."

Gov. Doug Burgum echoed the comments from Ness and Cramer in a statement, adding that, "We urge President Biden to work with North Dakota and other oil-producing states to continue to grow our domestic oil supply now, rather than taking it from future generations or buying it from foreign sources.”

The last major release from the U.S. reserve occurred in 2011 in an effort coordinated with other countries amid unrest in oil-rich Libya. The United States also tapped the reserve in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina and in the early 1990s amid the Gulf War.

Ness said oil produced in the Bakken region of western North Dakota does not go into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Bakken oil tends to be shipped directly to refineries. Much of it is transported through the Dakota Access Pipeline and makes its way down to the Gulf. Other pipelines also carry it to market, and trains transport some to refineries along the east and west coasts.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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