By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday said it wants to buy up to 3 million barrels of crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for delivery in March 2024, as it takes advantage of lower prices to start to replenish the stockpile.
The administration of President Joe Biden last year conducted the largest sale to date from the SPR of 180 million barrels to try to limit an oil price rally after Russia's war on Ukraine began in February 2022.
The Energy Department in October said it would buy back oil for the reserve at $79 per barrel or lower, after it had received an average of about $95 a barrel from last year's emergency sales. It plans to release monthly offers to buy crude for the emergency stash through May next year.
The new solicitation is for sour crude and the delivery will be received by the Big Hill SPR site in Texas.
The department has bought back nearly 9 million barrels for the reserve at about $75 a barrel. It has also secured the return of nearly 4 million barrels by February, several months ahead of schedule, from a previous exchange with oil companies.
Department officials have said that the return of oil is being tempered by planned life extension maintenance at the SPR, where oil is held in hollowed-out salt caverns on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. The reserve currently holds 351.9 million barrels of oil.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Susan Heavey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Barbara Lewis)