The Importance of Reserves

by Staff - Original publish date: November 28, 2012

Most of us have heard of the strategic petroleum reserve. This national stockpile generally contains about 700 million barrels of oil, some of which can be sold off if the commercial supply is disrupted. The strategic reserve helps ward off extreme price spikes and acute shortages. 

But the United States isn't the only country hoarding valuable resources and petroleum isn't the only substance being squirreled away for a rainy day. Let's just say that if China and Canada got together, they could serve one seriously epic breakfast.

So let's take a brief tour of some of the world's most intriguing strategic reserves. 

Maple syrup
Quebec's maple syrup reserve made headlines recently thieves made off with some 10 million pounds of the sticky stuff -- more than one-fourth the total stockpile -- valued at an estimated $30 million. 

The reserve is maintained by syrup industry group the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Why so much effort to preserve a pancake topping? Maple syrup is big business in Quebec, where three-quarters of the world's maple syrup is produced. In 2007, the region's maple crop was valued at $136 million.

The theft, however, threatens to undermine the mission of the reserve. If the stolen syrup floods the market, prices could fall for legitimately sourced maple as well. 

As the Chinese middle class grows, so does demand for delicious pork products. In an attempt to make sure growing demand doesn't lead to soaring prices, the Chinese government in 2007 instituted a national strategic pork reserve. 

Part of the reserve consists of some 200,000 metric tons of frozen pig. In at least one district, the local government also supplements the perishable national supply with a "virtual reserve" by paying producers to maintain herds at a certain level. 

In 2011, the government was planning to put some of its stockpiled pork on the market to drive prices down, and in August it started buying up more pigs to keep prices up. 

Why does the United States maintain a national helium reserve? One word: Airships. 

OK, that's not really true anymore. But when the government started building its helium storage infrastructure in the 1920s, the main goal was to ensure we had enough gas to fill our blimps and dirigibles. The system formally became the Federal Helium Reserve in the 1960s, and today, helium is used in cryogenics, rocketry, semiconductor manufacturing, commercial diving and, of course, balloons.

The reserve, however, faces closure in the next few years, unless Congress acts to keep it open. But the federal government has dominated the helium market for so long, that there are not many other companies in the business. So a helium shortage may be on the horizon.