Photography by Gracie – © All rights reserved
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Wednesday June 18 2008
President George Bush, responding to US public alarm over soaring petrol prices, today proposed overturning decades-old bans on drilling for oil off the US coast and in the pristine Alaskan wilderness.
Bush told a press conference at the White House: “There’s no excuse for delay.”
He said the US was too dependent on countries abroad, many of them in unstable regions. “Congress must face a hard reality: unless members are willing to accept gas prices at today’s painful levels – or even higher – our nation must produce more oil. And we must start now.”
Expanding oil extraction off the US coast would provide 18bn barrels, enough to supply the country for more than two years.
As for Alaska, he said advances in technology meant that oil could be extracted from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with “virtually no impact” to the land or wildlife.
His other proposals included extraction of oil from shale in the Green River basin that lies in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, a move opposed by environmentalists.
The final part of his plan is for more oil refineries in the US to reduce imported refined oil.
The plan has almost no chance of being adopted. Congress, which is Democrat-controlled, has consistently blocked exploration for environmental reasons.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, accused Bush of cynicism, saying the US could not drill its way out of the problem. “The math is simple: America has just 3% of the world’s oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil,” Reid said.
The Bush proposals are primarily political during a presidential election year in which petrol prices are one of the top issues.
Bush was echoing a call by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, who told oil executives in Houston yesterday he favoured lifting the ban on oil drilling in coastal waters.
This is the first major example of McCain and the White House working in tandem.