US President Joe Biden, facing low approval ratings amid rising inflation ahead of next year's congressional elections, has repeatedly asked the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, to pump more oil.
Tuesday's announcement that the US would release 50 million barrels was made after an official said Washington had approached major Asian energy consumers to help to drive down oil prices from near three-year highs. Britain had not previously been mentioned as being involved.
It was the first time Washington had coordinated such a move with some of the world's largest oil consumers, officials said.
OPEC+, which includes Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the Gulf, as well as Russia, has rebuffed requests to pump more at its monthly meetings. It meets again on Dec. 2 to discuss policy but has so far shown no indication it will change tack.
The group has been struggling to meet existing targets https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/us-wants-more-oil-opec-cant-turn-tap-much-harder-2021-11-23 under its agreement to gradually increase production by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) each month - a pace Washington sees as too slow - and it remains worried that a resurgence of coronavirus cases could once again drive down demand.
Current high prices have been caused by a sharp rebound in global demand, which cratered last year, early in the pandemic.
The release from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be in a loan and a sale to companies, US officials said. The 32 million barrels loan will take place over the next several months, while the administration would accelerate a release of 18 million barrels in sales already approved by Congress.
"We will continue talking to international partners on this issue. The president stands ready to take additional action if needed, and is prepared to use his full authorities working in coordination with the rest of the world," a senior US administration official told reporters.
India said in a statement it would release 5 million barrels. South Korea said it had agreed to participate but did not give volumes. Japanese media said Tokyo would announce its plans on Wednesday. Britain had no immediate comment.
Global benchmark Brent crude was trading around $80 a barrel on Tuesday, above where it was trading before the announcement but well off last month's three-year high of more than $86.
The effort by Washington to team up with major Asian economies to lower energy prices sends a warning to OPEC and other big producers that they need to address concerns about high crude prices, up more than 50% so far this year.
An OPEC+ source said a release from reserves would complicate the calculations for OPEC+, as it monitors the market on a monthly basis.
Suhail Al-Mazrouei, energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, one of OPEC's biggest producers, said before details of the release from US reserves was announced that he saw "no logic" in lifting UAE supply for global markets.
The United States historically has worked on any coordinated stocks release with the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), a bloc of 30 industrialised energy consuming nations.
Japan and South Korea are IEA members. China and India are only associate members.
"This is more than suggested by sources before," said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch, describing the US release of 50 million barrels as "quite significant".
"The question is the time horizon of the release and how OPEC+ will react," he said.
Under a swap from US reserves, oil companies taking crude must return it - or the refined product - plus interest. Swaps are typically offered when oil firms face a supply disruptions, such as a pipeline outage or damage from a hurricane.
Outright sales are less common. US presidents have authorised emergency sales three times, most recently in 2011 during a war in OPEC member Libya. Sales also took place during the Gulf War in 1991 and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.