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WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration will provide U.S. refineries with "limited quantities" of crude oil from the nation's emergency stockpile to help offset supply disruptions along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ivan, reported the Associated Press.
The move could help ease soaring gasoline prices at the pump and carries political implications less than six weeks from the presidential election.
The oil will be provided with the understanding that a like amount of crude, plus a bonus amount, will be returned to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "once supply conditions return to normal," the Energy Department said. It said terms of the deal were being negotiated.
While Democrat John Kerry has long urged Bush to use the reserve to ease oil costs, Bush in the past has resisted doing so. Bush criticized President Clinton for tapping into the reserve in 2000, suggesting it was a political gesture to help Democrat Al Gore, Bush's opponent in that year's election.
"I have authorized these negotiations in response to the physical destruction of offshore oil production and imports in the Gulf region caused by Hurricane Ivan's destruction," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a statement.
Administration officials said that several U.S. refiners had asked to borrow crude oil from the reserve, but did not say which ones or how much they sought.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan earlier told a White House briefing, "We've always said the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was set up to protect against physical disruptions of oil supplies such as national emergencies or natural disasters, and not to manipulate prices or for political purposes."
Hurricane Ivan, which shut down oil refineries in the Gulf Coast and kept tankers from port, qualifies as such a physical disruption, McClellan suggested.