Rep. Markey seeks mandatory SPR oil withdrawal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government would withdraw 500,000 barrels of oil a day from an emergency reserve over six months to help lower retail gasoline prices under legislation being sought by a key Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs a special energy panel in the House, told reporters he will be introducing the legislation if President George W. Bush continues to oppose any withdrawals of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Markey said that the bill will call for replenishing the SPR through government purchases of heavy crude oil over five years.

“I am going to introduce legislation that will require the president to sell 500,000 barrels of oil a day for a six-month period and to require that he put together a plan to repurchase heavy crude over a five-year period in order to replenish the oil,” Markey told reporters.

The Bush administration rebuffed recent calls by congressional Democrats to use his executive powers to withdraw some oil from the 700-million barrel reserve, saying it should only be used for emergencies.

Markey’s notification that he will try to mandate the withdrawal came on the same day that Bush called for lifting a government moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

Markey said his proposal would have a “dramatic, immediate effect” on oil prices. He contrasted it to Bush’s initiative, which Markey said could take more than a decade to help consumers.

“Many economists believe that there is upward of $25 a barrel of speculation, manipulation in the price of a barrel of oil today. We’re going to test that premise immediately” if the SPR withdrawal takes place, Markey said.

House Democrats are expected to schedule a debate this week on energy legislation that they say would increase oil drilling on federal lands already leased by industry. It was unclear whether the SPR legislation could be attached to that measure.

A rapid rise in oil prices this year has pressured Congress and the Bush administration to come up with some election-year remedies to bring down prices consumers are paying at the pump.

Editing by Jim Marshall