- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

President Bush will not open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in response to rising gas prices and instead urged Congress yesterday to pass his long-stalled energy plan that includes drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Mr. Bush promoted his energy agenda at a stop in Columbus, Ohio, saying that one of the keys to reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil — most of it from the volatile Middle East — is to promote “environmentally responsible exploration for oil and natural gas.”

“Developing a small section of the [Alaska National Wildlife Refuge] would not only create thousands of new jobs, but it would eventually reduce our dependence on foreign oil by up to a million barrels of oil a day,” Mr. Bush said. “Congress needs to look at the science and look at the facts and send me a bill that includes exploration in ANWR for the sake of our country.”

The United States imports 62 percent of its oil, up from 58 percent just five years ago.

The president’s comprehensive energy plan has been stymied on Capitol Hill since early in his first term, mostly because he and many fellow Republicans insist that drilling in ANWR be part of the package.

Environmental groups have dug in to oppose it, saying drilling would spoil a remote wilderness largely untouched by human hands. Senate Democrats have succeeded in killing the energy bill on an annual basis by uniting behind that position.

But Mr. Bush said the footprint left behind by oil exploration in ANWR would be minuscule while reaping enormous long-term benefits for the U.S. energy supply.

“The need is clear,” Mr. Bush said as oil prices closed yesterday at more than $53 a barrel, a new high. “We can now reach all of ANWR’s oil by drilling on just 2,000 acres — the size of the Columbus airport.”

Before Mr. Bush spoke yesterday, some Democrats demanded that the president open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve amid concerns that gas prices — now at about $2 a gallon — will continue to rise as the weather gets warmer.

“If we thought last year was bad, we haven’t seen anything yet,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Prices are already two dimes ahead of where they were last year at this time with no end in sight.”

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was last tapped by President Clinton in the fall of 2000 when crude oil prices were $37 a barrel and a gallon of gasoline cost about $1.50. The first President Bush released oil from the reserve for a few weeks during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the 600 million barrels of oil will not be tapped anytime soon.

“We’ve made it very clear that we do not believe it should be tapped for political purposes or to manipulate prices,” Mr. McClellan said of the underground reserve that contains about a 60-day supply for the whole country. “It’s there for national-security purposes, in the event there’s a natural disaster or a terrorist attack or a disruption of supply at home.”

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