EXPLAINER: What is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

A marquee displays gas prices at a Shell station on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in San Francisco. President Joe Biden on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from America's strategic reserve to help bring down energy costs, in coordination with other major energy consuming nations, including India, the United Kingdom and China.

If you’re one of the 48.3 Americans expected to hit the road this holiday weekend, be prepared for the highest gas prices in seven years.

The average price for unleaded gas in Citrus County as of Wednesday was $3.35 per gallon, up slightly from the statewide average of $3.34. That’s about 50% higher than last year.

The price of crude oil tumbled this week from above $80 a barrel to the mid $70s, according to American Automobile Association (AAA).

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Fears of slowing economic activity in the U.S. and Europe due to a resurgence of COVID-19, along with reports that President Joe Biden's Administration is calling for a simultaneous release of stockpiled oil by large oil-consuming nations is putting downward pressure on crude prices, AAA said.

“The price of crude oil accounts for about 50%–60% of what consumers pay at the pump, so a lower oil price should translate into better gasoline prices for drivers,” said AAA spokesman Andrew Gross. “But until global oil production ramps back up to pre-pandemic levels, this recent dip in the price of crude may only be temporary.”

Biden on Tuesday ordered a record 50 million barrels of oil released from America’s strategic reserve, aiming to bring down gasoline and other costs, in coordination with other major energy consuming nations including India, the United Kingdom and China.

The U.S. action is focused on helping Americans coping with higher fuel and other prices ahead of Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel. Gasoline prices are at about $3.40 a gallon, more than 50% higher than a year ago, according to AAA.

But Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso was among Republicans who criticized Biden’s move, saying the underlying issue is restrictions on domestic production by the administration.

“Begging OPEC and Russia to increase production and now using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are desperate attempts to address a Biden-caused disaster,” Barrasso said. “They’re not substitutes for American energy production.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday that during the upcoming legislative session, he is proposing more than $1 billion in gas tax relief for Floridians. 

This is expected will save up to $200 for the average Florida family, the governor's office said. 

“Gas prices have been rising due to inflationary pressures from bad federal policies, so we here in Florida need to step up and provide relief to our citizens,” DeSantis said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com. To see more of his stories, visit  tinyurl.com/y6kb23vv.