* Declines comment on oil reserves
* Says needs to increase production and decrease use of oil
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Feb 21 The White House is keeping an
eye on surging gasoline prices but spokesman Jay Carney on
Thursday said he had no comment on whether the Obama
administration was looking at tapping emergency oil reserves as
a way to tamp down prices.
The White House looked at whether to release oil from the
Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in 2012, when gasoline prices
were stubbornly high during the peak summer driving season,
which coincided with the election campaign.
After weeks on the rise U.S. gasoline prices are now at the
highest level ever for this time of year, which is typically a
time of lower seasonal demand, squeezing the household budgets
of many Americans.
Average U.S. gasoline prices were $3.78 per gallon for
regular unleaded, up 47 cents in the past month, the American
Automobile Association (AAA) said on Thursday, attributing the
steep run-up in part to seasonal maintenance at refineries.
Asked whether the White House was considering using the SPR
to take the edge off prices, Carney instead talked about steps
the administration has taken to boost oil production and reduce
"I have no announcements or comment on the SPR. As you know,
we keep all options on the table," Carney said, repeating a
phrase the White House often used last year.
The SPR is an emergency storage facility of oil maintained
by the U.S. Department of Energy with the goal of mitigating
temporary supply disruptions such as those sometimes created by
extreme weather or heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Domestic crude oil production is booming as producers use
hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to blast supplies from shale
rock deep beneath states like North Dakota and Texas.
Carney said there has been significant reduction in U.S.
dependence on, and imports of, foreign oil. "We need to take
steps so that that progress continues," he said.
Some Democrats have blamed speculation for pushing up energy
prices. Hedge funds have placed large bets on higher oil prices,
taking their total positions close to the highest level ever
This week Bart Chilton, a Democratic commissioner at the top
futures regulator, said more should be done to cap the number of
contracts speculators can hold.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission had developed
position limits for commodity markets, but they were struck down
last year by a judge who ruled the regulator had failed to show
speculators affect prices. The CFTC is appealing.
Carney said the White House would "do all we can" to protect
consumers from gasoline price shocks.
"Our overall focus has to be, however, on the need to
insulate ourselves from these spikes in market prices" by
boosting production of oil and alternative energy, Carney said.
Carney declined to comment on whether the White House is
talking to refineries about specific logistics issues that could
ease gasoline prices.
Many analysts say temporarily waiving the Jones Act, a law
that prohibits foreign flagged vessels from shipping gasoline
and other petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to
Northeastern ports, could provide some relief from high oil
prices. Jones Act waivers made at times other than during
emergencies, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, are
opposed by labor groups.