A stopgap government funding bill expected to be approved by the House Tuesday contains language that orders the Energy Department to sell $350 million from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Congress recently has frequently used the strategic oil reserve, an emergency fund, for deficit reduction and other items.
Under the Obama administration, Congress passed laws mandating the Energy Department sell about 140 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to pay for deficit reduction, drug research and highway spending.
President Trump's 2018 budget proposal called for a further drawdown of the oil reserve, seeking to sell about half of it, 270 million barrels, over the next decade to cut the deficit by $16.6 billion. That budget was never implemented.
The recently passed tax legislation also calls for sales from the reserve in 2026 and 2027.
Congress created the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve 40 years ago as a response to the Arab oil embargo, as the U.S. faced an economically threatening disruption in oil supply. Oil in the reserve is stored in four underground sites along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.
It is intended to shield against global supply disruptions, which is less problematic for the U.S. now because it is not as dependent on Middle Eastern suppliers, with domestic oil production surging in recent years.
Still, the U.S. is still a net importer of crude oil.
As of February, the reserve had 665 million barrels of crude, and the Energy Department made use of the petroleum reserve during last year’s hurricane season.
In September, the agency released 1 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Phillip 66's Lake Charles refinery in Louisiana, as Hurricane Harvey barreled through the Gulf Coast, causing a surge in gasoline prices.
It later released an additional 3.5 million barrels from the reserve to large refineries owned by Marathon Petroleum Corporation and Valero.
The Harvey-induced emergency releases of oil were rare, and were the first since 2012.
But experts say Harvey highlights the continued importance of the oil reserve, even in an era where the U.S. produces more of its own oil from fracking, and relies less on imports.
The oil, they note, was bought at much higher prices than the Energy Department could sell it for today, with prices below $70 a barrel.