The History of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Posted: December 8, 2021

The US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) has been around in one form or another since the late 1960s and has played an important role in helping to ensure that America stays powered throughout times of emergency. This reserve, which is designed to hold oil until it’s needed, was set up with the aim of preventing supply shocks and limiting the impact of events like the 1973 Oil Crisis on everyday Americans. In order to understand how the reserve came into being, it’s necessary to take a look at its history and see how it has evolved over time.

What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

The reserve consists of a stockpile of crude oil underground at four sites on the Gulf Coast—Bryan Mound, Big Hill, Bayou Choctaw, and West Hackberry—all owned by private companies under long-term contracts with DOE. Crude oil is stored in salt caverns (depressions formed by soluble rocks) drilled into salt domes (mounds). Caverns in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve range in capacity from 6 to 37 million barrels; a typical cavern holds 12 million barrels and has a diameter of 200 feet and a height of 2,500 feet. The Willis Tower in Chicago could fit into one of the storage caverns with room to spare. There are 62 of these massive underground caverns in the Reserve. The total permissible storage capacity of these four locations is 727 million barrels or just over a month’s worth of the USA’s total oil consumption.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve taps Sandia expertise in salt – LabNews
3-D image of Bayou Choctaw salt dome, one of the areas that houses the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Source)

The Gulf Coast storage areas were chosen because they offer the most flexible connection to the nation’s commercial oil transport network. In the Gulf Coast, the SPR’s oil storage facilities are divided into three geographic pipeline distribution systems: Seaway, Texoma, and Capline. For crude oil distribution, each of these pipeline networks has access to one or more major refining centers, interstate crude oil pipelines, and marine terminals.

Map of SPR Storgage Site Locations

Why Does the US Have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

In 1973, members of OPEC, a group of oil-producing countries, decided to implement an oil embargo in response to US involvement in the Yom Kippur War. This led to significant increases in prices and shortages at gas stations across the country. To protect against similar situations going forward, President Jimmy Carter created what is now known as SPR in 1975. The idea was that if supplies were cut off for any reason —whether deliberate or accidental—there would be a reserve to draw from during times of need. The size was small initially—just one billion barrels were purchased and stored at four locations around Texas and Louisiana. Since then, however, its capacity has grown significantly: It can hold up to 727 million barrels today. The goal of SPR has always been to provide a cushion when there are sudden disruptions in supply (and costs) or when there are sudden geopolitical events that impact supply and demand on international markets. It’s used sparingly these days—the most recent withdraw was in 2012 when 20 million barrels were released by President Obama amid rising tensions with Iran over nuclear programs.

Oil Shock of 1978–79 | Federal Reserve History

How is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Being Use Today?

In recent months, there has been an outcry from Americans to increase domestic oil production. Part of that outcry involves releasing part or all of our strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) in order to reduce oil prices and stimulate our economy. In response, The White House said 32 million barrels will be an exchange over the next several months, releasing oil that will eventually return to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The other 18 million barrels are part of a sale of oil that Congress had previously authorized. DOE said the exchange will be conducted with crude oil from all four SPR storage sites: approximately 10 million barrels from Big Hill, Texas; 10 million barrels from Bryan Mound, Texas; 7 million barrels from West Hackberry, La.; and 5 million barrels from Bayou Choctaw, La.


Content UpdatesNews PulsePodcast

  • The ongoing oil crisis in the US has caused many people to ask why gasoline prices have skyrocketed to record highs despite the fact that the supply of oil available to the market has increased in recent weeks. The simple answer is that a great deal of oil has been shipped from overseas and stockpiled in U.S. ports, but the bottleneck getting the oil from those ports onto land has caused prices to rise anyway as labor bottlenecks transform into supply bottlenecks. Check out our latest periodical HERE to learn more!

  • RARE PETRO is the tik talk of the town! Short-form content to educate both the public or industry professionals is available NOW! Check out our latest Tik Tok Video uncovering what Holywood does not understand about a blowout. 

  • RARE PETRO and Rainmaker GBD collaborate on a monthly newsletter highlighting everything you need to know about the energy sector. This is a video interview with RARE PETRO’s Anthony McDaniels as he speaks on the biggest stories and dives a little bit deeper into supporting data. Welcome to the second edition of “Side Chat”

  • Sam Gibbs revolutionized the way a rod pumped well would be managed dozens of times over. As a brilliant engineer, mathematician, and disciplined man he worked passionately to change the trajectory of rod pump technology for generations. Find out more in episode seven of Hydrocarbon History! 

  • Grab a drink and join us for our newest segment, Thirsty Thursday: An Inventory Report to see if we’ve been poured another tall glass of crude and whether or not the U.S. was thirsty enough to suck down another round. 

Click below to subscribe to the RARE
PETRO Podcast Network or visit

The information contained in this newsletter is provided by RARE
PETRO Engineering, PLLC via the linked sources unless otherwise

Send Us a Message

Rare Petro Logo

1224 Washington Ave,
Suite 10
Golden, CO 80401

(720) 772-7371

Rare Petro Logo


Oil & Gas News Pulse


You have Successfully Subscribed!