U.S. President George Bush wants Congress to expand offshore oil drilling to help bring down record high gasoline prices. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say oil companies should start by using the offshore leases they already hold.
President Bush says rising energy costs are hurting the U.S. economy, so he wants Congress to expand oil drilling on America's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
"Experts believe that the OCS that is currently off-limits could produce enough oil to match America's current production for almost ten years," he noted. "The problem is that Congress has restricted access to key parts of the OCS since the early 1980s. Since that time, technological advances have allowed us to explore oil offshore in ways that protect the environment."
In his weekly radio address, the president said once Congress lifts its legislative ban on more offshore drilling, he will remove presidential restrictions.
In the Democratic radio address, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen said Democrats support more drilling but want oil companies to explore the more than 27 million hectares of land they have already leased from the federal government.
"What the president hasn't told you is that the oil companies are already sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands with the potential to nearly double U.S. oil production," he said. "That is why in the coming days congressional Democrats will vote on use-it-or-lose it legislation requiring the big oil companies to develop these resources or lose their leases to someone else who will."
President Bush also wants congressional Democrats to allow for drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, action that environmentalists have successfully blocked for decades.
"Scientists have developed innovative techniques to reach this oil with virtually no impact on the land or local wildlife," he added. "With a drilling footprint that covers just a tiny fraction of this vast terrain, America could produce an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil. That is roughly the equivalent of two decades of imported oil from Saudi Arabia."
Van Hollen says the Energy Department estimates that drilling today in the Alaskan wildlife refuge would not deliver any petroleum to U.S. pumps for ten years. He says more drilling in Alaska would save consumers about two cents a gallon 20 years from now.
"When Americans are getting sticker shock every time they pull into the gas station, we don't have 20 years to wait. We need action, real action," he said.
Van Hollen says Democrats want President Bush to release some of the gasoline in the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and focus more on alternative sources of energy.
Oil touched a record high of more than $147 per barrel Friday before closing at just over $145 per barrel. U.S. stocks fell for their sixth straight week, averaging loses of about 16 percent for the year so far.