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U.S. Energy Dept releases 500,000 barrels from strategic reserve

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it would release 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as Tropical Storm Harvey’s disruption of the petroleum industry has sent fuel prices soaring.

The first emergency release from the reserve since 2012 will be delivered to the Phillips 66 refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, according to a department statement. That plant has not been affected by the storm, which has hammered the Gulf Coast for several days.

The release includes 200,000 barrels of sweet crude and 300,000 barrels of sour crude oil, the statement said. The reserve, established in the 1970s, currently contains 679 million barrels of oil.

Harvey shut about a quarter of the country’s refining output after it hit Houston with record floods before it spread to Louisiana.

U.S. gasoline prices surged anew in morning trade after the Colonial Pipeline Co <COLPI.UL>, which operates the biggest U.S. fuel transport system, said it would shut its main lines to the Northeast amid outages at pumping points and lack of supply from refiners.

The Energy Department “will continue to provide assistance as deemed necessary, and will continue to review incoming requests for SPR crude oil,” spokeswoman Jess Szymanski said.

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