The US Department of Energy’s (DoE) emergency petroleum supply will be filled to the brim, Trump said at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Monday.
“We are filling up our national petroleum reserves. We are looking to put as much as 75 million barrels into the reserves themselves," Trump told reporters at a daily news conference. "That would top them out. That would be the first time in a long time it has been topped out."
The DoE had previously moved to allow companies to lease space in the strategic reserve’s tanks for up to 77 million barrels of oil.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established after the 1973-74 oil shock, when Arab oil-producing nations sought to punish Western support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War by sharply hiking petroleum prices. The network of underground tanks in Louisiana and Texas is capable of holding some 797 million barrels of crude oil.
Trump initially announced his intent to fill the reserves “up to the top” on March 13, when he first declared a national emergency. At that time, the move was intended to mitigate economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, which at the time had infected just 1,800 Americans and killed 41. On Monday, the US had registered 770,000 cases and seen more than 37,000 Americans die.
However, the DoE ditched a plan to buy up 30 million barrels after congressional lawmakers did not include funding for the purchase in national economic stimulus legislation. A separate bill explicitly providing $3 billion toward the initiative was introduced earlier this month, but has failed to progress.
The move comes amid historically low oil prices as petroleum producers run out of storage space. May futures for West Texas Intermediate petroleum collapsed on Monday, falling to negative $13.10 per barrel after hitting a low of negative $40.32 per barrel, even as OPEC+ nations have struck a deal to mutually slash oil production.
Trump told reporters he believed the negative oil futures were “a short-term squeeze,” adding it was mostly a financial phenomenon in which “a lot of people got caught” short-selling. He also noted he would look into stopping oil shipments from Saudi Arabia to the US amid the market glut.