The American Petroleum Institute is urging U.S. lawmakers to end what the trade group considers restrictive regulations that it says will lead to greater energy dependence and fewer jobs for American workers. It also is urging President Obama to approve a giant oil pipeline project from Canada.
The United States has tremendous energy resources if untapped deposits of natural gas and coal are included.
"More than Saudi Arabia, more than Russia, more than China, more than Iran, Iraq, Libya and Kuwait combined," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. He told industry executives recently January 4 that the only thing standing in the way of U.S. energy security and the creation of thousands of new jobs is the reluctance by the Obama administration to open up oil and gas exploration.
The trade group has launched an ad campaign to make energy production an election issue. The group is also pressuring President Obama to approve a massive pipeline project that would carry 700,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil per day to refineries in Texas.
"We are hopeful and encouraged that he will make that affirmative decision, thus creating 20,000 new American jobs immediately and facilitate the creation of another half a million U.S. jobs by 2030," Gerard said.
Environmentalists reject that argument. They say the nearly 3,000 kilometer Keystone XL pipeline would cause irreparable harm.
"We're opposed for environmental reasons, primarily because of the risks associated with spills in the Keystone pipeline," said Pat Spears, who represents a native tribe from South Dakota.
The API argues the $7 billion project would be among the safest in the world. But energy analyst Geoffrey Styles says it's a no-win situation for a president facing competing pressure from unions and environmentalists.
"The move to postpone the decision beyond the election seemed like the best of both worlds, but I think now he's going to be forced to make a choice and, whichever choice he makes, someone is going to be upset with it," Styles said.
On the other hand, Styles says a robust domestic energy program could shield the U.S. from the impact of geopolitical problems in some of the world's biggest oil producing nations.
"Iran threatening to shut down the strait (of Hormuz) because of the actions that are being taken against them, because of their nuclear program, all sorts of different factors. There's issues in Nigeria as well, so you know, it's classic oil market volatility," Styles said.
Oil prices have soared following angry protests in oil-rich Nigeria over the removal of fuel subsidies -- and after Iran's military leaders threatened to retaliate against economic sanctions by shutting down the Strait of Hormuz. The narrow passage is used by international tankers to ship nearly 40 percent of the world's oil.