Senate Backs Amendment Banning US Strategic Oil Reserve Sales to China

(Reuters) — The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment to an annual defense bill on Thursday that would ban exports to China of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The tally was 85 to 14 in favor of the measure, beyond the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to add the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, legislation that sets policy for the Department of Defense that is expected to be passed later this year.

The desire for a hard line on China is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the divided U.S. Congress, and members of Congress have introduced dozens of bills seeking to address competition with China's communist government.

The amendment was sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat and Ted Cruz, a Republican.

The issue of SPR sales to China heated up after President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced the sale last year of 180 million barrels from the SPR to tame gasoline prices that spiked on Russia's war on Ukraine.

The sale pushed levels in the SPR to the lowest in 40 years. Critics in Congress say the low level reduces U.S. energy security even though the country produces much more oil than it did in 1983, thanks to advances in fracking.

Last July, in a sale of 39 million barrels from the SPR that was part of a 180-million-barrel release, 1 million barrels went to UNIPEC America, a Houston based arm of China's Sinopec. In 2017, under Former President Donald Trump, some SPR oil was sold to PetroChina International.

The House and Senate will next go to conference to work out a final bill that has to be passed by both chambers and be passed by Biden to become law.

Benjamin Salisbury, an analyst at Height Capital Markets, said it was unlikely that a ban would have "any systemic impact on the functioning of the SPR which is done through a competitive bid in a relatively liquid market."

The Biden administration has no plans to conduct further sales from the SPR at this time but has slowly begun to buy some oil back.

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