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Bill Clinton’s Use of Oil Reserves Did Little to Fight High Prices

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(Bloomberg) -- Bill Clinton was the last U.S. president to tap the country’s emergency oil reserves with the deliberate goal of fighting high prices 21 years ago. The move, which president Joe Biden is now replicating, didn’t help all that much.

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As energy prices became a hot issue in the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, then-vice president and candidate Al Gore urged Clinton to use the government’s stockpiles after crude prices in New York hit a 10-year high of more than $37 a barrel. The next day, on Sept. 22, Clinton released 30 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, helping bring prices down to little more than $30 in about a week, but two weeks later they were back at $36.

In the following weeks, what really determined the market’s mood was what OPEC was up to and concerns about heating fuel for the winter. After the Saudi Arabia-led cartel’s oil production reached the highest since 1979 in October 2000 and U.S. heating oil production jumped, prices declined sharply in December to end that year at less than $26.

To Biden’s credit, his efforts to talk down oil did have an impact on the market before any release from the reserves was announced. But now the market seems to be more focused on OPEC’s reaction.

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