WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday released 1 million barrels of crude oil from the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to prevent gasolines prices from spiking, as Hurricane Harvey shut down more than 20 percent of U.S. refinery capacity.
"In response to the impacts from Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Secretary of Energy has authorized the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to negotiate and execute an emergency exchange agreement with the Phillips 66 Lake Charles Refinery," DOE spokeswoman Jessica Szymanski said in a statement.
According to the department, 400,000 barrels of sweet crude oil and 600,000 barrels of sour crude oil will be delivered via pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which has not been bit by the unprecedented tropical storm.
"The Department will continue to provide assistance as deemed necessary, and will continue to review incoming requests for SPR crude oil," Szymanski said.
The release of 1 million barrels is the first tapping of the SPR, which currently holds 679 million barrels of crude oil, for an emergency since Hurricane Isaac struck in 2012.
As of Wednesday evening, 10 refineries in the Gulf Coast region were shut down, with six having begun assessing damage and restarting, which may take several days.
U.S. gasoline prices have surged. The national price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline averaged 2.45 U.S. dollars on Thursday, the highest recorded pump price of the year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
"Consumers will see a short-term spike in the coming weeks with gas prices likely topping 2.5 dollars per gallon, but quickly dropping by mid to late September," said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano.