More Assurance Is Needed That Strategic Petroleum Reserve Oil Can Be Withdrawn as Designed

RCED-85-104: Published: Sep 27, 1985. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO conducted a review to determine whether the Department of Energy (DOE) will be able to withdraw Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) oil at the designed rate and sustain that rate over time. DOE has been implementing a three-phase plan to develop a 750-million barrel SPR at six sites in Louisiana and Texas, of which 483.5 million barrels were in storage.

GAO found that DOE is continuing to develop additional storage capacity at three of the sites and is using a process known as leaching to remove salt deposits at another site. While SPR was designed so that oil could be withdrawn at any time, DOE has established specific withdrawal rates to be achieved at the completion of each phase. Operational and technical problems exist in pipelines and pumping equipment that may affect the ability to achieve the designed drawdown rate and, although marine growth and debris have reduced the amount of water available to force oil out of storage, DOE has not determined the impact. DOE contractor reports state that there is a high degree of corrosion in one major oil pipeline and uncertainty about the quality of some of the buried pipe's ability to hold up under the pressure required for drawdown. DOE has been aware of maintenance, support, and repair problems, but has been slow in initiating corrective actions. DOE used a computer model to simulate SPR capabilities for an extended drawdown; however, because of the operational problems and delays in corrective actions, GAO believes that reliance on the computer, which assumes ideal operating conditions, is questionable. Although tests showed that oil could be withdrawn from the sites, the test duration was not long enough to adequately assess equipment reliability.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of Energy directed that drawdown tests be conducted. The tests are in the process of being completed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the SPR system has the capability to provide a readily available supply of oil, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Manager, Oak Ridge Operations Office, to conduct further tests of SPR that allow an assessment of its capability to meet design drawdown goals while recognizing the trade-off between cost and the level of assurance gained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Action was completed in testing SPR pipelines to detect any corrosion that would limit the flow of oil or water needed for drawdown. Anticorrosion protective devices were installed as necessary.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the SPR system has the capability to provide a readily available supply of oil, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Manager, Oak Ridge Operations Office, to ensure that measures are taken at all sites to: (1) assess the ability of pipelines/piping to withstand drawdown-related pressure levels; and (2) protect the pipelines/piping systems from future restrictions and/or corrosion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE modified the raw water systems at Bryan Mound and West Hackberry. Tests of the drawdown system at these sites indicated that Bryan Mound would be able to meet its drawdown rate, but West Hackberry would not. DOE consequently revised the West Hackberry rate to reflect actual capabilities and plans to increase drawdown capacity at other sites to be able to meet the overall drawdown goal.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the SPR system has the capability to provide a readily available supply of oil, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Manager, Oak Ridge Operations Office, to test the raw water systems to ensure that drawdown is not limited by inadequate water supplies, after making the planned modifications to the Bryan Mound and West Hackberry raw water lines and the intake channel at Bryan Mound.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Work on the automated system has been completed and tested. All discrepancies identified in the test were corrected and the system has been accepted by the operating contractor.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the SPR system has the capability to provide a readily available supply of oil, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Manager, Oak Ridge Operations Office, to ensure that ongoing work on the logistics support and automated control systems is satisfactorily completed and that the systems function as designed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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