Fact Check: Did Donald Trump Build Up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves to ‘100% Full’?

(Photograph by Sean Rayford/Getty Images.)

In a statement released by Donald Trump, the former president claimed that “after 50 years of being virtually empty, [he] built up our oil reserves during my administration … to 100% full.”

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is a government storage facility that houses barrels of crude oil for the government to sell in case of a shortage. The SPR is made up of four salt caverns across the Gulf of Mexico, and can hold up to 727 million barrels of crude oil. From 2001 to 2011, the stockpile increased steadily, but after plateauing for a few years, the number of barrels in the SPR began decreasing after Trump assumed office. On January 20, 2017—the day Trump was sworn into office—the SPR held 695.1 million barrels of crude oil. That number dropped throughout the Trump presidency, ending at 638.1 million barrels on January 15, 2021—Trump’s last full week as president.

In March 2020, Trump directed the Department of Energy to purchase 77 million barrels of crude oil to completely fill the SPR. Such a purchase, however, required congressional funding. The request was included in an early version COVID-19 relief legislation, but the $3 billion request did not make its way into the final draft of the bill that was passed into law, with Senate Democrats taking credit for its removal.

An initial round of buying with funds the Department of Energy had on hand did take place, leading to a slight increase from 635 million barrels to 656 million barrels between April 17, 2020 and July 24, 2020, but reserves began declining again the following week. At no point in the Trump presidency was there a sustained increase in the SPR stockpile. The SPR was not “virtually empty” when Trump became president, nor did the stockpile reach the 727 million barrel capacity during his tenure.

The number of barrels held by the SPR continued to decrease under President Joe Biden, who announced his administration will sell off 1 million barrels of oil a day for the next six months to alleviate increasing gas prices. 

Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

If you have a claim you would like to see us fact check, please send us an email at factcheck@thedispatch.com. If you would like to suggest a correction to this piece or any other Dispatch article, please email corrections@thedispatch.com.

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