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America's strategic oil reserve swells

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Every day, as thousands of barrels of crude oil splash into salt dome caverns along the Texas-Louisiana coast, Americans buy a bit more security against an interruption of foreign oil supplies.

As of now, Richard D. Furiga says, 215 million barrels are stored in five salt domes - four in Louisiana, one in Texas - less than one-third of the government's goal of 750 million barrels by 1989.

Half a million barrels a day pour into the caverns, said Mr. Furiga, deputy director of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) program, in a telephone interview.

Ninety percent of that oil is foreign, with Britain's North Sea wells leading the way, followed by Mexico, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and other suppliers. Domestic oil from Alaska accounts for the other 10 percent.

Born after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the SPR sputtered along for years, with no crude at all flowing into the domes at times when world oil supplies were especially tight.

Now, with a worldwide glut and major producing nations anxious to sell more oil, the Reagan administration is plunging ahead on the project.

Shortly, says Mr. Furiga, a new batch of contracts should be announced, amounting to 100,000 barrels a day of new supplies destined for the SPR.

Steady buildup of the government-owned SPR contrasts with the action of some major oil companies, whose stocks have soared with low demand.

Oil companies generally are reducing stocks, partly to cut high interest charges on inventories, partly to protest high prices demanded by some members of the 13-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Some cash-hungry OPEC members - notably Nigeria - have discounted the price of their oil, leading to pricing chaos within the cartel.

Now OPEC has agreed on a unified price, accompanied by a Saudi Arabian pledge to reduce production enough gradually to bring supply and demand into balance. Saudi Oil Minister Ahmad Zaki Yamani says OPEC's action should wipe out the oil glut by next spring.


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