House & Senate Republican Energy Leaders Request GAO Evaluate DOE Mismanagement of Strategic Petroleum Reserve
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) today requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate the Department of Energy’s (DOE) mismanagement of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). This mismanagement has undermined America’s energy security and increased our reliance upon foreign energy sources.
Read the full letter here and below.
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
We write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate the
Department of Energy’s (DOE) management of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and
conduct an audit of the SPR modernization program authorized by Section 404 of the Bipartisan
Budget Act of 2015. DOE’s mismanagement of the SPR has undermined America’s energy
security, leaving the nation more vulnerable to energy supply disruptions, and increasing the
ability for OPEC and Russia to use energy as a geopolitical weapon.
Today, the SPR inventory is at the lowest level since 1983. Under President Biden, DOE
has overseen the largest SPR drawdown in history, selling off more than 250 million barrels,
equivalent to 42 percent of the reserve, with no credible plan to replenish the stockpile. DOE has
failed to establish long-term plans for the optimal size, configuration, maintenance, and
operational capabilities of the reserve. We are concerned that the rapid depletion of the SPR may
have caused structural damage to the SPR’s pipelines and caverns, compromising its ability to
meet its energy security mission in the event of a true energy supply disruption. The SPR
consists of subterranean salt caverns filled with oil, and a complex system of wells, pipelines,
and pumps that use water and brine to direct the flow of oil to where it is needed. Each
drawdown has the potential to degrade the SPR’s storage and distribution capabilities, as
pressurization, corrosion, and consequences of repeated use erode the SPR’s physical integrity.
In 2015, Congress required DOE to conduct a long-term strategic review of the SPR and
authorized an investment of $1.4 billion to conduct a SPR modernization program. We were
disappointed to learn that the modernization program, known as Life Extension II, has been put
on hold by DOE, resulting in critical delays and cost overruns. DOE also recently created new
rules, without Congressional authorization, for “fixed-price” purchases of crude oil, rather than
conventional purchase contracts. The failure of DOE to secure contracts to purchase oil under the
new “fixed-price” bidding scheme raises serious questions about DOE’s replenishment strategy
and the ability of the SPR to protect the American consumers and the economy in times of
Given the concerns identified and the importance of the SPR as an energy security asset,
we request that the GAO conduct a programmatic audit of the SPR modernization program,
including the status and budget of the Life Extension II program, and other relevant programs relating to SPR operations, maintenance, modernization, and acquisition and sales relating to the
reserve. Through your investigation, we ask that you address the following questions:
- Has the Biden administration conducted a long-term strategic review of the SPR, and if so, is the review adequate to inform decision making and protect the nation from energy supply disruptions in both current and future scenarios?
- What damage and increased maintenance requirements, including well remediation, cavern closure, and both pipeline and pump replacements, have resulted from the recent drawdowns?
- What physical or cybersecurity threats are there to the SPR facilities?
- How thorough are DOE’s studies and assessments of the SPR’s structural integrity?
- Has the DOE developed an adequate plan for replenishing the SPR? If so, please explain.
Thank you for your assistance with this request.