Courtesy Reuters

Since the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970s, the United States has spent nearly $50 billion (in today's dollars) to build and maintain a huge strategic stockpile of crude oil. Stored in underground salt domes along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) now holds more than 700 million barrels of oil. Other major oil importers -- notably European countries and Japan -- have spent heavily to accrue their own reserves, and many are evaluating whether they should build even larger ones. In his January 2007 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush urged increasing the country's stocks to 1.5 billion barrels in the near future. With the price of crude oil likely to continue to rise above $100 per barrel, the venture could cost between $70 billion and $100 billion. Congress has authorized boosting the SPR to one billion barrels but has not yet appropriated the necessary funds. (And in May, motivated by high oil prices and election-year politics, it temporarily blocked efforts by the Bush administration to keep filling the SPR.) After the military resources spent to keep oil supplies flowing reliably from the Persian Gulf and other significant oil-producing regions, the SPR is the United

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