Russia and Ukraine | SPR: the huge oil reserve that the US keeps in caves for crises like the current one - Start Up Gazzete
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Russia and Ukraine | SPR: the huge oil reserve that the US keeps in caves for crises like the current one


At times of oil problems, such as the one that has arisen due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States government looks to some caves in Louisiana and Texas, in the south of the country.

Oil prices have risen above US$100 a barrel in a volatile market due to the conflict in Europe.

Given this, the US and other countries of the International Energy Agency have decided to release 60 million barrels in an attempt to contain the rise in prices.

The Joe Biden government authorized the injection of 30 million barrels that it will obtain from the strategic oil reserve (SPR ).

Such a deposit is underground and is so abundant that it has allowed the United States to sustain its consumption in difficult times and contribute to the market in situations like the current one.

salt and oil

Physically, the SPR crude oil is stored in a system of 60 underground caverns drilled in salt rock that stretch from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Freeport, Texas.

The caverns of the SPR

Salt is useful to protect crude oil because both substances do not mix , so these salt deposits are considered a perfect store.

It has the capacity to hold more than 700 million barrels of crude oil. As of February 25, there were 580 million barrels, according to the US Department of Energy.

At ground level there is not much to see, just some well heads and pipes.

The pipelines extend for thousands of meters underground and through them high pressure water can be pushed to extract the oil through a simple displacement process.

A SPR head

Salt caves are not completely stable. They can sometimes crumble through the walls or ceiling, causing damage to machinery that must be carefully replaced.

Its maintenance, therefore, has a significant cost: US$200 million per year .

But in return, the United States has emerged victorious in numerous incidents involving disruptions to oil imports.

The country could go several months without other sources of oil if it were to require it.

How did it come about?

The deposit was created in the 1970s after the economic crisis caused by the oil embargo that Arab countries imposed on Western governments for their support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War (1973).

As a consequence of this cessation in the flow of oil, crude oil prices quadrupled by 1974 and there were problems of fuel shortages in the United States.

People had to stand in long lines to refuel their cars. Some feared that the gasoline they had would be stolen and began to protect themselves by carrying firearms.

A man with a gun and a sign against fuel theft

And part of that country’s industrial infrastructure – designed to run on cheap fuel – has been pushed to the brink of obsolescence.

This is how this strategic reserve was established in 1975 in order to protect the United States from the ups and downs of the world oil market and shield the country from problems that may arise in the supply of crude oil.

It fulfilled that function during the Gulf War in 1991 and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which, by affecting part of the US energy infrastructure, caused oil from the strategic reserve to be used to compensate for the drop.

Queue for gasoline in the United States in 1974.
In 1974, the oil embargo caused gasoline shortages in the United States.


  • Drafting
  • BBC News World
Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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