HOW THE OIL RESERVES COULD BE OPENED

Only the President can authorize a drawdown of the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This step can be taken when the United States must meet its obligations as a member of the International Energy Agency or when there is ``a severe energy supply interruption.'' The Energy Policy and Conservation Act says such a severe interruption exists when all of the following conditions exist: The shortage is, or is likely to be, of significant scope and duration, and of an emergency nature.

The shortage may cause major adverse impact on national safety or the national economy.

The shortage results, or is likely to result, from an interruption of supply of imported petroleum products, or from sabotage or a natural disaster.

It would take just over two weeks for the energy department to arrange for the sale of oil from the reserve to oil companies.

After presidential authorization, the following steps would follow: Day 1: Department of Energy (DOE) offers notice of sale. Days 2-7: Oil companies, states, and other entities make bids. Days 8-10: DOE evaluates bids. Day 11: DOE announces successful bidders. Days 12-14: Bidders make full payment. Day 15: Contracts signed. Day 16: Delivery of oil begins (up to 3.5 million barrels a day).

By comparison, it takes 45 to 60 days for an oil tanker from Saudi Arabia to reach the US.

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