Public Skeptical About Oil Release

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) — Homeowner Evelyn Ashby thinks the Clinton administration's decision to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the nation's emergency reserves is political posturing — but she hopes it works.

``Everything is politics with them,'' said Ashby, who paid $2,300 last winter to heat her home in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. ``Last year was really terrible. If there is more oil on the market, maybe it will cost less.''

The administration tapped the reserve Friday to ease consumer fears about low supplies of home heating oil. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said inventories were 19 percent lower than a year ago nationwide and 65 percent lower in New England.

``Hopefully it'll help out,'' said Gayle Schiller, who is weatherproofing her two-bedroom home in Chicago this fall. ``Probably it was a political move. But I think Clinton is concerned about people, so it was probably a bit of both.''

The only other time oil was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in its 27-year history was during the Gulf War in 1991. The oil is to be made available over the next 30 days.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush called the decision to dip into the reserve election-year politics designed to help Vice President Al Gore's campaign. The administration had largely opposed use of the reserve in the spring as gasoline prices soared.

Bush said the 590-million barrel reserve ``is meant for a national emergency, a national war, a major disruption of supply.''

Norman Richards of Boston is not convinced tapping the reserves will help reduce his home heating oil bill, which was $1,400 a year ago.

``I was listening to Bill Richardson on the news and it was just political gobbledygook,'' said Richards, who called himself an independent who usually voted Republican.

Oil prices have dropped $4 to $5 a barrel since the announcement, said David O'Connor, commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources. He said the release will probably not force prices down, but will at least stabilize them.

Still, 30 million barrels, less than two days' supply in a nation that uses about 18.6 million barrels of oil products every day, is not enough to reduce heating costs at Maida's Pharmacy in Arlington.

``We don't think the volume is enough to have a significant impact,'' said employee Bill Broderick, who said he and owner Larry Maida had discussed the situation. ``We think it's just to save face to make it look like he's (Clinton) doing something to help out.''

Rather than tapping the reserves, the administration should have pressured OPEC to increase oil production, said Virginia Martins, owner of Bay Fuel Inc., which supplies fishing boats in New Bedford.

Diesel has been as high as $1.34 per gallon recently, after being 78 cents just three years ago, she said.

``The prices are out of control,'' she said. ``Fishermen are paying more for fuel than they are getting for the fish they catch.''

Not everyone is questioning the timing of the release.

``I'm satisfied that (Clinton) released the oil for the right reasons,'' said Norton Strasmick of Cranston, R.I., a Democrat.


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