Fact-Checking Donald Trump On The Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Last week, as expected, former President Donald Trump announced he is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2024 presidential election. The move was widely expected, and as he is prone to do, Trump made a number of questionable claims in the speech announcing his candidacy.

On the subject of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), Trump claimed that he “filled up” the SPR, but Biden has “virtually drained” it.

It’s not the first time Trump has made this claim. Earlier this year, after President Biden announced the largest SPR release in history, Trump issued a statement:

“So after 50 years of being virtually empty, I built up our oil reserves during my administration, and low energy prices, to 100% full. It’s called the Strategic National Reserves, and it hasn’t been full for many decades. In fact, it’s been mostly empty.”

I addressed this claim at the time, but let’s review the facts.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), when Trump took office in January 2017, the SPR contained 695 million barrels. When he left office four years later, the SPR contained 638 million barrels. So, the level of the SPR actually declined while President Trump was in office. You can see this clearly in the chart below:

The chart easily disproves the first part of Trump’s claim. However, I will say that Trump proposed to top off the SPR during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. But, as I noted previously, 1). The directive was blocked by Democrats in Congress; and 2). The SPR was already within 13% of its highest-ever level when that directive was issued. In any case, it’s clear that it wasn’t filled during Trump’s time in office.

What about the second part of the claim? Has President Biden “virtually drained” the SPR? It’s easy to see where there is a nugget of truth to that. Biden has reduced the level of the SPR to its lowest level since 1984. So, while some may quibble with “virtually drained”, it is true that Biden has significantly depleted the level of the SPR.

Thus, while Trump’s claim that he filled the SPR is inaccurate, there is a basis for criticizing Biden for depleting the SPR. The SPR is intended to serve as an insurance policy against oil supply disruptions, and depleting it reduces U.S. security against such disruptions. If we have a true emergency where we need that oil, depleting the SPR is going to look like a foolish move.

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