Australia Looks to U.S. for Fuel Reserves


Published Aug 5, 2019 9:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia's Energy Minister Angus Taylor is in discussions with the U.S. about accessing its strategic petroleum reserve.

"Access through a contractual arrangement would greatly boost our stocks and flexibility of supply," he told local media, noting it would take 20-40 days for oil to be sent to Australia from the U.S.

The idea has been criticized by the opposition Labor Party and also by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). 

Despite 90 percent of the country’s fuel supplies being imported, all of which comes on foreign tankers, the Australian Government has failed to ensure adequate reserves are available to address potential shipping disruptions caused by military conflicts, economic crisis or natural disasters, says the MUA.

Australia has been in breach of the International Energy Agency’s 90-day fuel stock holding obligation since March 2012, with less than a month’s supply currently available.

Last year, the MUA commissioned a report Australia’s Fuel Security – Running on Empty which found the country is reliant on the equivalent of almost 60 full-time fuel import tankers to supply petrol, diesel and jet fuel.

The MUA says that even if a deal was struck to provide access to the United States’ Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the lack of any Australian-flagged tankers meant bringing this fuel to Australia in the short time-frame required during the kind of emergency where fuel supplies were threatened would be almost impossible.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said: “Trying to game the system by negotiating access to another country’s fuel reserves — yet having no strategic fleet of tankers to bring that fuel to Australia — is nothing more than a stop-gap solution that has the illusion of taking action while leaving the country no better off.”

Crumlin said much of Australia’s fuel travels through potential conflict zones, such as the Middle East and South China Sea, making Australia particularly susceptible to potential disruptions. “This isn’t a hypothetical situation,” Crumlin said. “The fact is we live on an island, we’re almost completely reliant on foreign vessels to supply our fuel needs, much of our fuel travels through potential conflict zones, and despite all that, we only have a couple weeks fuel on hand.

“Despite all these challenges, Australia remains the only developed oil-importing country without government-controlled stocks of crude oil or refined petroleum products.”