Time to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

With gasoline prices still stubbornly high and little relief in sight, President Barack Obama and some lawmakers are taking a closer look at tapping the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Obama said Wednesday that it may be time to consider such a move in light of the ongoing disruption in oil production in war-torn Libya.

“My general view has been that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to be used when you don’t have just short-term fluctuations in the market, but where you have a disruption … Libya has taken 125 million barrels off the market,” Obama said, according to the Huffington Post.

The decision Wednesday by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, not to boost crude output despite $100-barrel oil prices worldwide prompted more calls for dipping into the U.S.’s emergency oil stockpile.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, introduced legislation Wednesday that would direct the Energy Department to release up to 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, and replace it with refined fuels like gasoline or diesel fuel when pump prices retreat.

But analysts today were skeptical that reaching into the SPR would accomplish much.

“SPR is a political ‘Hail Mary’ when there is no apparent relief from high oil and gasoline prices,” analysts with Houston-based investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a note to investors today. They pointed out that U.S. oil inventories are already at record highs, “so not sure who will buy the oil or where they will store it.”

In a report, analysts with FBR Research reviewed the federal guidelines for tapping the SPR, noting it was designed to be a limited tool for emergency disruptions in supply.

Major draws from the SPR have occurred only twice since it was created: following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. However, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act gives the president broad discretion in deciding what constitutes a severe disruption to oil suplies, FBR said.