Former President Donald Trump speaks with supporters at the Westside Conservative Breakfast, Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Washington CNN  — 

Former President Donald Trump, now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, claimed in a television interview on Thursday that he not only purchased 75 million barrels of oil for the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve but did so for a remarkably low price.

“We had so much oil we didn’t know what to do with it. We bought a lot of it for very little for the strategic national reserves,” Trump said at a Fox event in Iowa. Moments later, after criticizing President Joe Biden for selling a large quantity of oil from the reserve, Trump boasted once more about his own supposed discount purchase: “Think of it: 75 million barrels, and I bought it for peanuts, and Congress – I had to fight Congress, and the pricing was so crazy and so good.”

Facts First: Trump’s supposed purchase of 75 million barrels of oil never happened.

Trump did propose to buy 77 million barrels for the reserve in 2020 as oil prices cratered because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Democratic-controlled Congress rejected the $3 billion in funding that would have paid for the purchase, describing it as a subsidy to big oil companies.

Various Republicans have since criticized the Democrats for blocking Trump’s proposal, arguing that they caused the country to miss a golden opportunity to fill the reserve while prices were unusually low. That’s fair game. But Trump boasted on Fox that he overcame the congressional opposition and did buy tens of millions of barrels at those prices. That’s not true.

“It would have been a smart policy to refill the SPR at very low prices, but it didn’t happen because Congress did not approve that purchase. I suppose Trump can take credit for a good idea, but not for execution,” said Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

The Energy Department said in an email to CNN last week that the only oil purchase for the reserve during the Trump era was a “trial purchase” of about 124,000 barrels in 2020. That is not even close to 75 million barrels Trump claimed he bought for “peanuts.”

The former president’s comment wasn’t a one-time misstatement. He has made related false claims for more than a year about his handling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, drawing repeated debunkings from CNN, and other outlets. Here’s a look at additional ways his remarks have been false or misleading.

Trump claimed last year that he got the reserve to “100% full.” On Fox on Thursday, Trump said, “You know, we had the strategic national reserves almost full. And then Biden came along and took it to keep prices down – and it’s called artificially down.”

But Trump did not actually fill up the reserve. In fact, the reserve, which has an authorized storage capacity of 714 million barrels of oil, contained fewer barrels when Trump left office in early 2021 (about 638 million) than when he took office in early 2017 (about 695 million).

That’s in large part because of oil sales that Congress had mandated by law. But nonetheless, Trump’s claims about how he “filled up” the reserve are meritless.

Even the one significant increase in the number of barrels in the reserve during the Trump presidency, a spike of about 21 million barrels in 2020, was short-lived – the result of a Trump program that allowed companies to temporarily house some of their own crude in the reserve during a period when storage space was scarce.

“Trump really can’t argue that he left it in better shape than he found it,” said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and economics lecturer at the University of Houston.

Trump also claimed on Fox that, as a result of Biden’s sales from the reserve, “the thing is almost empty now” and that “it’s totally empty.” He added, “It’s the emptiest I think it’s been in 50 years.”

There is a kernel of truth here. The reserve now contains fewer barrels of crude oil – about 355.4 million as of late May – than it had since 1983, so it’s at a 40-year low (though not a 50-year low). But “there’s months of supply in there still; it’s not empty, it’s not even close to being empty,” said Jim Krane, an energy research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The US strategic reserve remains the world’s largest even after Biden drew it down. Krane said Trump’s claim is “definitely exaggerating the level of the contents of the SPR; it’s underplaying it. There’s a lot more oil in there than President Trump is letting on.”

The Energy Department said in its email last week that Congress’s recent decision to cancel 140 million barrels worth of previously mandatory sales for the fiscal years 2024 through 2027 will allow the reserve to end the 2027 fiscal year with the same number of barrels as it would have had Biden not conducted any emergency sales in 2022.

Trump, criticizing Biden for selling oil from the reserve prior to the 2022 midterm elections, said on Fox that the reserve is “meant for times of war – it’s not meant to keep a price down for an automobile. It’s meant for war, for real problems.”

Biden did cite a war, the price increases caused by the Russian war on Ukraine, to justify his decision to make emergency sales of 180 million barrels from the reserve in 2022. But it’s not true that the reserve is only meant for times of war.

The law that governs the reserve says that sales can be made from the reserve if “an emergency situation exists and there is a significant reduction in supply which is of significant scope and duration,” causing a “severe” increase in petroleum prices that is likely to have a major negative impact on the national economy – or if the president finds that there are circumstances that are causing or are likely to cause major energy supply shortages.

Previous presidents have authorized significant sales of oil from the reserve during the Gulf War, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and in response to supply disruptions during the civil war in Libya. They have also loaned oil from the reserve to increase supply after disruptions like hurricanes, ship channel closures, a barge accident and a pipeline blockage.

In fact, the Trump administration itself made such a loan arrangement for reasons other than a war – releasing more than 5 million barrels from the reserve to Gulf Coast refiners affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. That quantity was repaid to the reserve by early 2018.

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