Obama administration coy on possibility of tapping oil reserve as gas prices rise

Feb. 24, 2012: Gas prices are posted at a Sunoco gas station in Philadelphia.

Feb. 24, 2012: Gas prices are posted at a Sunoco gas station in Philadelphia.  (AP)

The Obama administration is staying mum about the possibility of opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to curb the rise in gas prices -- declining to rule it in or out while insisting all along that officials are not interested in "short-term fixes." 

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stirred speculation on Friday when, in an interview on CNBC, he said "there's a case for the use of the reserve in some circumstances." 

Geithner said the administration would "continue to look at those and evaluate that carefully." 

But while the Obama administration last summer announced the release of 30 million barrels from the reserve -- a decision derided by Republicans as a political move -- the White House would not tip its hat to its intentions in an election year. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the question purely "hypothetical." 

"I'm not going to speculate about any sorts of discussions that may or may not be taking place related to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," Earnest said. 

He added: "If somebody is going to promise that they can wave a magic wand or sprinkle the pixie dust or plant the beans in the right place so that we can get out of this problem, they're just not being straight with you and they're not being straight with the American people." 

That follows the theme Obama has pushed over the last few days. In a major energy speech earlier in the week, Obama said there is no "silver bullet" for rising gas prices. He repeated the claim in his radio address on Saturday, as he called for an "all-of-the-above" long-term approach to energy independence. 

Obama's comments were decried as "defeatist" by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. 

"Simply by removing the bureaucratic barriers imposed by your own administration we can begin to make progress," he wrote in a letter to the president Friday. 

Republicans have, as could be anticipated, called for more domestic oil and gas production. They roundly call on the administration to approve the cross-border permit for the Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline. Several Republican senators have even introduced a bill to prohibit the Strategic Petroleum Reserve from being opened unless that permit is issued. 

The hubbub over gas prices comes as the average price for a gallon of regular rises to $3.67. Though a spring-time jump in prices is typical, it's happening earlier than usual. The $3.67 price is a record for this time of year. 

Geithner attributed the early jump to two factors -- recovery in the global economy, as well as fears that Iran could disrupt oil supplies. 

The country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which currently contains about 700 million barrels, is intended for emergency situations. While potentially opening the door to tapping the reserve, Geithner stuck to the president's message Friday that the country should continue to invest in long-term solutions. 

"There's no quick fix to this, no short-term fix to this," Geithner said. "The best strategy for the country is to continue to make some long-term investments, to expand production in the United States, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, to encourage Americans to use more efficient clean sources of energy, to encourage Americans to be more efficient in how they use energy."