Oil prices have fallen sharply after reports that the US is set to take new steps to bring down high fuel costs.
The Biden administration is reportedly considering the release of up to 180m barrels of oil in the coming months from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If confirmed, this will be the largest-ever release since the reserve was created in 1974. The war in Ukraine has rocked global energy markets in recent weeks over concerns that supplies will be cut.
In afternoon trade in Asia, US oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate was 5.4% lower at $102 a barrel, while Brent Crude was down by 4.6% at around $108. The soaring cost of fuel has become a major political issue in the US ahead of mid-term elections in November. Without giving further details, the White House said that Mr Biden will deliver remarks at 13:30 local time (17:30 GMT) on Thursday, on “his administration’s actions to reduce the impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s price hike on energy prices and lower gas prices at the pump for American families”.
News of the potential major release of oil by the US came as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and its allies including Russia were due to meet on Thursday. The group of major oil producing nations, which is known as Opec+, is expected to stick to its existing deal to gradually increase production. The cost of oil has jumped in recent weeks, with Brent Crude hitting $139 a barrel earlier this month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions slapped on Moscow by the US and its allies.
Energy prices have fallen back since then, but Brent Crude is still almost 70% higher than it was a year ago.
Global energy supplies had been tightening for months as economies started to reopen as they relaxed pandemic lockdown measures. That was made worse in recent weeks by expectations that Russian oil exports could fall by as much as 3m barrels a day. Russia is the world’s second-biggest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia.
Most other major energy producing nations are either at full capacity or are unwilling to increase output The US, which is the world’s largest oil producer, is currently pumping out 11.7 million barrels of oil a day, but that is not enough to meet global demand. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency has called an emergency meeting for Friday. It is unclear whether other IEA members – which include 29 nations such as the UK, France, Germany and Japan – will follow the US by releasing oil reserves.
Also on Thursday, Japan said that it will take emergency measures to secure supplies of seven strategic materials it relies on heavily from Russia or Ukraine as the war and sanctions cause disruptions to supplies. The country’s industry minister said the actions include government support to boost domestic production, alternative procurement and to help technological developments to reduce use of the materials, which include liquefied natural gas and gases used in computer chip-making. BBC