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Sale of 11 million barrels from US SPR by December may cushion Iran sanctions impact

Washington — The US will sell 11 million barrels of sour crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for loading between October 1 and November 30, the Department of Energy said Monday, timing that indicates the White House wants to cushion any market impact from the US reimposing sanctions on Iran's oil customers.

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The sale is part of a previously announced drawdown for the next fiscal year, which starts in October.

The crude will be sold from three caverns: Bryan Mound and Big Hill in Texas, and West Hackberry in Louisiana. Bids are due August 28 at 2 pm Central time, according to the DOE notice, which sets minimum delivery sizes of 100,000 barrels for pipelines, 250,000 barrels for vessels and 40,000 barrels for barges. Buyers must use Jones Act-compliant vessels to load any crude destined for US ports.

US sanctions will come back into force November 5 on Iran's oil sector, central bank, shipbuilders, and ports. Forecasts vary widely on how much oil will leave the market, but estimates have climbed since the US said in June it would push countries to cut Iranian oil imports to zero. Current consensus hovers around 1 million b/d.

"Choosing the earliest possible opportunity afforded by statute would appear to reflect President Donald Trump's concern regarding oil market tightness associated with the reinstatement of Iran oil sanctions," Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, said in a note Monday.

Book said Trump can still invoke emergency authority to sell another 30 million barrels from the SPR to blunt any Iran sanctions impact. But the White House will want to hang onto that option while it continues to negotiate with countries to eliminate or sharply cut their Iranian imports.

"Negotiators may not want to offer SPR barrels to reward cuts before they materialize," Book said.

Congress has passed laws requiring DOE to sell 290 million barrels of crude from the SPR through fiscal 2027. The 11-million-barrel sale is part of two requirements: to draw down 25 million barrels over three consecutive fiscal years starting in 2017 and to sell 58 million barrels over eight consecutive fiscal years starting in 2018.

The SPR currently holds 405.4 million barrels of sour crude and 254.6 million barrels of sweet crude. -- Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Kevin Saville, newsdesk@spglobal.com