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House speaker asks Bush to stop stockpiling oil

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday called on the White House to temporarily stop sending crude oil into the nation’s emergency stockpile.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she was calling on President George W. Bush to work with Democrats to find a way to “temporarily suspend” oil deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The White House immediately rejected the plea. “We don’t believe the fill rates have a meaningful impact on oil supplies,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

“We continue to fill the reserve to provide an added layer of protection to the American people in cases of severe supply disruption.”

Pelosi said suspending deliveries would save drivers 5 cents to 24 cents per gallon at the pump.

As U.S. benchmark crude oil prices hit a record near $120 a barrel this week, the Bush administration insists that filling the reserve accounts for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of daily supply, and has no meaningful effect on prices.

The nearly 701 million barrels of crude oil stored in underground salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas are meant as a supply buffer in case of major supply disruptions like the 2005 hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast oil patch. It was created by Congress in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo.

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Current shipments come to about 70,000 barrels per day, while the United States uses about 21 million bpd.

Democrats in the Senate are also pursuing legislation that would require the Energy Department to suspend shipments to the reserve if prices are too high.

Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said he would seek to attach an amendment to an upcoming supplemental appropriations bill that would forbid the government from sending oil to the SPR if oil prices are above $75 a barrel.

“I believe I have the votes,” Dorgan told reporters. “I think I’m going to be able to get this dome.”

Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Russell Blinch and Walter Bagley