President Bush says he is ready to tap the nation's emergency oil reserves to make up for new shortfalls in energy supplies caused by hurricane damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Mr. Bush is also planning to return to the storm-ravaged region on Tuesday.
The twin storms hit the heart of America's petroleum industry, striking an area that is home to numerous oil rigs, platforms and refineries.
Early indications are, the damage from Hurricane Rita, which blew across the region on Saturday, was limited. Nonetheless, President Bush is warning the American public that there could be temporary disruptions in energy supplies. "A lot of our production comes from the Gulf, and when you have a Hurricane Katrina followed by a Hurricane Rita, it's natural, unfortunately, that it is going to affect supply," he said.
Mr. Bush says oil companies are now assessing damage to their platforms and rigs. He says the major oil pipelines from the Gulf should be back in full operation by the end of the week, and most refineries will recover quickly, although a few may be down for as long as a month for repairs.
Gasoline prices are not expected to spike after Hurricane Rita, as they did earlier this month, when Katrina's full impact was felt in the Gulf. All the same, the president is well aware of public sensitivity to any major price increase, and he is going out of his way to offer assurances. He says, if necessary, the government will help cover shortages by providing oil from its emergency reserves.
"It is important for our people to know that we understand the situation, and we are willing to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate any shortfalls in crude oil that could affect our consumers," he said.
The president spoke following a briefing at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington. Speaking to a small group of reporters, Mr. Bush said the storms have shown the American people just how delicate the balance is between supply and demand. "We can all pitch in by being better conservers of energy, people just need to recognize the storms have caused disruption and if they are able not drive on a trip that is not essential, that would be helpful," he said.
The president said he will make his sixth trip to areas hard hit by the storms on Tuesday. He is expected to travel to his home state of Texas and tour a region that is home to many Americans who work on oil rigs and in refineries.