Jim Letourneau's Blog

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Why were Naval Petroleum Reserves created?

I always enjoy the trivia question from the PTTC's monthy email. I spent the afternoon with my children poking around the USS Midway Museum in San Diego so the question seemed especially apropos.


One hundred years ago — on July 2, 1910 — President William Howard Taft established three Naval Petroleum Reserves — designating large areas of potential oil-bearing lands in California and Wyoming as sources of fuel for the U.S. Navy. Why did he create these "strategic" reserves?


By 1910, the U.S. Navy was rapidly converting from coal to oil-burning ships. Concern arose for an assured supply of oil in the event of war or a national emergency. In a message to Congress Taft noted: "As not only the largest owner of oil lands, but as a prospective large consumer of oil by reason of the increasing use of fuel oil by the Navy, the federal government is directly concerned both in encouraging rational development and at the same time insuring the longest possible life to the oil supply." See "Petroleum & Sea Power," courtesy of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.