By Noah Browning
LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices plunged on Thursday on news that the United States was considering the release of up to 180 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest in the near 50-year history of the SPR.
Brent crude futures for May fell $4.87, or 4.3%, to $108.58 a barrel by 0855 GMT. The May contract expires on Thursday and the most actively traded June futures were down $5.08 at $106.36, having earlier slid by more than $6.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures for May delivery fell $5.90, or 5.5%, to $101.92 a barrel after touching a low of $100.53.
U.S. President Joe Biden will speak later on Thursday regarding his administration's actions aimed at lowering gasoline prices that have risen to record highs since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
"Desperate times, clearly call for desperate measures and clearly the Biden administration believes the spike in oil prices warrants this move to eat into the country's emergency supplies," said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
"A drip release of 1 million barrels of oil is on the cards for the next six months, a sign that there is not expected to be a quick resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which has squeezed oil supplies."
Goldman Sachs analysts said the move would help the oil market to rebalance in 2022 but was not a permanent fix.
"This would remain, however, a release of oil inventories, not a persistent source of supply for coming years. Such a release would therefore not resolve the structural supply deficit, years in the making."
International Energy Agency (IEA) member countries are due to meet on Friday at 1200 GMT to decide on a potential collective oil release, a spokesperson for New Zealand's energy minister said on Thursday.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia meet on Thursday and are expected to stick with a planned increase in their May output target.
Oil rose by around 3% on Wednesday as peace talks stalled between Ukraine and Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter.
Western financial sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine have disrupted its crude oil and oil product exports. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation".
(Reporting by Liz Hampton in Houston, Florence Tan and Isabel Kua in Singapore; editing by David Goodman and Jason Neely)
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