NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When it comes to the politics behind the price of gasoline at the pump, especially this week given talk of tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), it's easy to typecast U.S. politicians as the permissive parent playing opposite a spoiled teenager, otherwise known as the U.S. consumer.

Needless to say, both parts are played to perfection. One has the wallet to open and the other is a dependent; one is technically in charge but seems to live in fear and react to the other's, often childish, temper. Ultimately, both reduce energy consumption to a simple weekly household budget item, as opposed to engaging in a larger discussion of energy policy or dealing with the reality of the oil market.

Talk of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve being tapped due to the current political shockwaves in North Africa and the Middle East are premature at best -- and, at worst, an embarrassment for politicians, or anyone, to endorse as economic necessity right now and a willful neglect of the real issue: the need for new U.S. energy policy.

Read my lips: there is no current shortage of oil. Actually, don't read my lips. Read the latest Department of Energy Data, released on Wednesday, which showed an increase in the stockpiles of West Texas Intermediate crude in Cushing, Okla.

If you don't read lips or trust the government data, ask the markets. t

"Inventory levels are at multi-year highs and don't support the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," noted Phil Weiss, energy analyst at Argus Research.

Indeed, there is no sign yet of demand destruction as a consequence of higher oil prices, either. The latest DoE data also showed a continued decline in gasoline and heating oil inventory even after the recent surge in oil prices.

"We are not short oil. Wherever you look, the country is at healthy levels of petroleum products. There is no physical problem," said Roger Read, energy analyst at Morgan Keegan. The energy analyst summed up the sagacity of politicians seeking to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve this way: "Politicians want to be seen as doing something. If a constituent is complaining about $3.50 or $4 gasoline, what do you say? 'Release the SPR!' we say, and that will fix it. Most people just want simple answers."

I've got a simple answer. Let's just divvy up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve right now, divide whatever is in there by the number of cars on the roads in the U.S. and send out baggies of oil to individuals. It'll be even better than the recent recession-era consumer stimulus tax rebate checks (though delivering all that oil around the country might itself pose an energy use problem). Conversely, we could just take one of those dammed canyons out West and fill it up with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and let Americans boat on it and bathe in it -- so, at least, if energy policy isn't solved, we can drink from the cup of plenty and live the life of leisure to which we've become accustomed.

All kidding aside, as an energy policy argument, the attempt to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is, at least at this point, like a double agent working against the problem that the country needs its operatives to solve, otherwise known as the U.S. oil addiction.

"They can do it if they want, but to me it's just a short term thing and we need to seriously address energy policy. How we wean the country off oil is more important than appeasing people. Tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would make them happy, but I don't see how it helps," Argus Research's Weiss said.

It's also the symptom of an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. It's not just limited to use of cars and the shock any time the price of gasoline in the U.S. nears a price already far exceeded in Europe, either. More generally, U.S. consumer perception of energy pricing versus other commodities -- and I don't mean raw commodities of the natural world but commodities of the market, from t-shirts to iPads -- doesn't just reflect the spoiled teenager, but the teenager who plugs into the wall without a thought of the infrastructure required to power the simplest device and the permissive parent who runs the new "energy efficient" washing machine for one pair of socks or a towel that has fallen to the floor.

The issue of $4 gasoline isn't going to leave the headlines as long as there is continued political uncertainty in the Middle East. In fact, as we draw closer to U.S. summer driving season, the issue is likely to become magnified. On Tuesday, the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration predicted a 25% chance of $4 gasoline by this summer, and estimated that WTI crude will average $102 in 2011.

The Libyan oil production of 1.6 million barrels daily being crippled as a result of its civil war is the first actual physical disruption of global oil supply caused since the Northern African crisis began, and U.S. energy companies are directly hit by the crisis.

Among U.S. integrated majors, ConocoPhillips ( COP) generates 3% of its output from Libyan operations.

U.S. independent oil and gas company Marathon Oil ( MRO) has roughly 12% of its output from Libyan production.

Hess ( HES) has an exploration and production presence in Libya amounting to 6% of its annual output.

Occidental Petroleum ( OXY) which has Libya among its strategic production markets for the next three years, generates roughly 2% of output from Libya.

All the major oil service companies have operations in Libya, including Halliburton ( HAL), Baker-Hughes ( BHI), Schlumberger ( SLB) and Weatherford International ( WFT). Weatherford recently disclosed that across its Northern African business, excluding Algeria, 3% of annual revenue could be hit by the current events.

Yet these companies have not been impacted by the crisis at a level that would deem the real events, or $100 oil, as a reason to go to the strategic "well." Going to the well once would be once too often in this case. OPEC still hasn't come forward with a formal announcement about increasing production to make up for the Libyan shortfall -- which some market experts say would put an end to talk of tapping the SPR -- but OPEC's deliberations are an indication that the situation is not as dire as those lining up their cars at the SPR pump would have it.

Big oil is caught up in the $4 gasoline headline hype, too. Exxon Mobil ( XOM) CEO Rex Tillerson said on CNBC on Wednesday that $4 gasoline at pump remains a major psychological barrier, and for a lot of people in the U.S., a household budget increase triggered by $4 gasoline is a problem.

While the Exxon Mobil CEO's comments are fair, and the link between higher oil prices and demand destruction -- and potentially even recession -- is a legitimate fear, Total ( TOT) CEO Christophe de Margerie was more on point on Tuesday, when he remarked that tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, "will send a message we are scared, and it could mean an increase in prices, not a decrease.... It's to be left for a time when we are really confronted with a shortage of oil, which is not the case," the Total CEO said, speaking at the IHS CERA oil industry conference.

The issue is not that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a "last resort." In fact, it's an occasional resort. It's been tapped after natural disasters including Gulf Coast hurricanes, and was created as a result of the 1970s oil crisis. However, the implication of using the word "strategic" is that government management of the reserve should remain above the level of political rhetoric with no other goal but short-term placating of constituents.

"This is lot of Congressmen rallying to open the spigot on stockpiles and purely for constituents. It's about the price of gas at the pump, but we have the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for reasons other than this," said Oppenheimer & Co. equity trader Chris Marten.

In addition, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the U.S. trump card in terms of energy market crisis management. Argus Research's Weiss noted that the use of the SPR in the aftermath of hurricanes served almost like a de facto swaps market. In this case, we are not talking about a short-term oil supply and delivery disruption but a world in which $100 oil could very likely stay in the headlines for a long time, or at least return at any time.

"We don't have a few million spare barrels we can add to production like the Saudis, so what do you do after tapping the reserve? If you put it on the market today, it's one less barrel from the SPR that's available when you really need it," said Morgan Keegan's Read.

White House top economist Austin Goolsbee said this week that the SPR exists to deal with "large international supply disruptions" and added in his comments at a business conference, "That is why we created it. That is mainly the criteria we use."

In the end, one can only hope that the permissive parents know best, and act best, while the pleas from the spoiled teenager serve only as music for the ears of the most obsequious politicians -- or at least until these pleas better reflect reality.

In a world far from weaning itself off oil, and for a country that has failed to bring new energy policy to the table, $100 oil may be reality, at least occasionally, as opposed to a red-alert energy crisis. It should be a trigger to tap our best minds to develop an energy future that doesn't require tapping the strategic well every time U.S. consumers feel a little pain at the pump.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.


>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Eric Rosenbaum.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Eric Rosenbaum.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: